Health risks from alcohol much greater when combined with smoking, poor diet and low levels of physical activity.
Public Health experts at Bangor University in North Wales say that middle class, and more affluent, members of society can get away with drinking that bottle of wine a night (or day) because they are less likely to have other bad habits that exacerbate the dangers of alcohol.
Poorer drinkers are more likely get sick because they also tend to be overweight smokers who don’t eat their greens or fresh fruit. Combining unhealthy habits increases the risk of illness by more than the sum of their parts, with drinking and smoking twice as dangerous.
The public health experts questioned 6,000 people about their habits, and found 83 per cent of poorer people who drink more than recommended levels have at least one other unhealthy habit, compared with 67 per cent of better off drinkers. Nearly nine per cent of the poorest risky drinkers also smoke, were overweight, got little exercise and ate little fresh fruit or vegetables, compared with just one per cent of the more affluent drinkers.
The report was published in the journal BMC Public Health. Bangor University’s Mark Bellis, who led the study, said: “These things do not just add to each other — they have a multiplicative effect. When you are overweight you do not just get the risk of being overweight and [the risk of drinking], you get those added and effectively doubled as well.
“The effects may be even greater when you add in three or four types of unhealthy behaviour.”
“In general terms the body is trying to maintain itself in a constant level of balance.
“Alcohol is providing a challenge to the body in keeping that balance and if you have got multiple challenges it becomes increasingly difficult for the body to maintain a healthy balance.” Poorer people were also more likely to binge rather than drink steadily through the week. The study defined risky drinkers as men who had more than 21 units a week and women who had more than 14.
Professor Bellis said: “We need on an individual level for people to understand that being overweight and having an unhealthy lifestyle may carry additional risks when you’re drinking alcohol.
“People should understand that if they are overweight, smoking and drinking then the risks are not just adding to each other, they are going to multiply each other.”