Irish and British women – not men – are among the heaviest drinkers in the world, according to a major new study.
The research, published in The Lancet, says there is no healthy level of alcohol consumption. The study found Irish women drink, on average, 3.1 units of alcohol per day, positioning them in seventh place in terms of worldwide consumption.
Their UK counterparts drink an average of 3 units per day, according to the most comprehensive global analysis on alcohol-related health effects to date. Contrary to popular belief, Irish men do not feature in Europe’s top ten consumers of alcohol – the highest average amounts of daily drinks consumed by men residing in Romania (8.2 units) and Portugal and Luxembourg (each at 7.2).
Among women, the thirstiest consumers are to be found in Ukraine (4.2), and Andorra, Luxembourg and Belarus (each at 3.4). The report, carried out by the Global Burden of Diseases study, a project based at the University of Washington in Seattle, goes as far as to warn governments that advising people to “abstain completely” has the best health benefits.
Alcohol led to 2.8 million deaths across 23 serious illnesses in 2016 and was also the leading risk factor for premature mortality and disability in the 15 to 49 age group, accounting for 20 per cent, or a fifth, of deaths.
As a guide, half a pint of average-strength lager contains one unit and a 125ml glass of wine contains around 1.5 units. In the study, a standard alcoholic drink is defined as 10g of alcohol.
Globally, an average of one in three people, or 2.4 billion people, drink alcohol – 2.2 per cent of women and 6.8% of men die from alcohol-related health problems each year, the data showed. Gathered from data from 694 studies in 195 countries around the world, the findings also highlighted that globally, 27.1 per cent of cancer deaths in women and 18.9 per cent in men over 50 were linked to their drinking habits. The types of negative health impacts that the research considered include organ and tissue damage, injuries and poisoning from intoxication, self-harm and violence.
“Alcohol poses dire ramifications for future population health in the absence of policy action today.
Our results indicate that alcohol use and its harmful effects on health could become a growing challenge as countries become more developed,” Prof. Emmanuela Gakidou, one of the report’s senior authors, said. The report recommends that countries’ alcohol control policies and health programmes be reexamined.
Excise taxes on alcohol, controlling the physical availability of alcohol and the hours of sale, and controlling alcohol advertising are three key policy actions which “would contribute to reductions in population-level consumption, a vital step toward decreasing the health loss associated with alcohol use”, the report says.
Many national guidelines on alcohol mention alcohol as having some health benefits in tight moderation. It is said that a glass of wine a day can help reduce the risk of the heart disease. Researchers found that low levels of drinking offered some protection from heart disease, and possibly from diabetes and stroke, but that any benefits were far outstripped by alcohol’s harmful effects.
“Our results show that the safest level of drinking is none,” one author writes. Ireland’s alcohol excise duty is comparably very high in the EU across all drinks categories, with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently reporting that drink consumption is down in Ireland.
Ireland has the second highest excise tax on alcohol in the European Union, the highest wine excise, the second highest beer excise (behind Finland) and the third highest spirits excise (behind Sweden and Finland), according to a report authored by Dublin City University economist Anthony Foley.
Ireland’s alcohol excise duty is 150 per cent higher than 24 of the other 27 EU member states, it said. The report was commissioned by the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland (DIGI). Ireland was also recently warned by 14 member states of the EU that its alcohol bill may be found in breach of EU competition law.
The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill – debated in the Dáil earlier this year after two years of passing through Ireland’s senate, the Seanad, following intense industry lobbying – proposes restrictions on advertising, labelling and minimum pricing. The countries have said the bill was a “disproportionate response” to the issue of alcohol misuse and one that would damage trade and discriminate against new products entering the Irish market.
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