Alcohol seen killing 200,000 Britons in next 20 years

Steps to curb alcohol use feature three times in the WHO’s top 10 “best buys” for public health policies to reduce the burden of chronic diseases, which kill 36 million people a year worldwide.

The U.N. health body says restricting access to alcohol bought at retail outlets, enforcing bans on alcohol advertising and raising taxes on alcohol would have an enormous health impact.

Britain’s Cameron said last week he would look at the issue of alcohol pricing but has so far stopped short of agreeing to set a minimum price. His government is due to set out a new alcohol strategy later this year.

The new projection is a slight improvement on what the same team of researchers predicted a year ago, when they suggested a worst-case scenario of up to 250 000 avoidable alcohol-related deaths over the following 20 years. But while they acknowledged that any improvement is good news, the authors said this small change was hardly cause for celebration.

No matter, either, that evidence suggests childhood drinking in Britain is not a growing habit, and that young people are being blamed as the visible and rowdy sharp edge of a national addiction to alcohol that is arguably more serious, if better hidden, among older adults. Childhood drinking is a problem, but recent government data suggests that 46% of 11- to 15-year-olds have never touched alcohol, a slightly increased proportion. The trouble is that those children who do drink are drinking more heavily (equivalent to six pints a week) and that women of all ages are catching up with men.

Is the drink problem primarily about health – record rates of liver disease and drink-related cancers? In that case adult heavy drinking (led by Scotland, with its 570 pint-per-capita equivalent annual alcohol consumption) is the bigger problem. Or is it about disorder and teenage bingeing? The two are linked, of course, and the sight of a town centre on a Saturday night should persuade any doubters that something is badly wrong.

But remember that British alcohol consumption is just below Germany’s and not much higher than in Spain or France. Britain drinks too much and drinks in the wrong way, but crackdowns will fail and the fault is not just with the young.


The Guardian, Wednesday 2 September 2009

Gilmore, who worked with Nick Sheron from University Hospital Southampton on the alcohol death forecasts, questioned whether Cameron’s government could “afford to duck effective action on alcohol” that would “have such a positive impact on crime and disorder, work productivity, and health.”

“The UK government will have to withstand powerful lobbying from the drinks industry, but the potential prize of reversing this tragic toll of alcohol-related deaths is there for the taking,” the two doctors wrote.

Research released 6 May 2009 shows that the proportion of women who binge-drink almost doubled between 1998 and 2006 and is now at 15% (men who binge-drink increased by 1% to 23%). However, the proportion of 16- to 24-year-old men binge-drinking decreased by 9% since 2000. Researchers also found that whilst fewer children are drinking, those that do drink are drinking much more than they did in the past.

The research, carried out by a team from Oxford Brookes University for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, looked at existing evidence on drinking trends in the general population over the last 20 to 30 years. Five trends highlighted in the report are:

An increase in drinking amongst women
In the UK, women are less likely than men to drink, and women who do drink consume less than men. However the gender gap has generally narrowed over the last 15 to 20 years. Researchers suggest this might relate to the influence of advertising and also women’s increased financial security and independence.

An increase in drinking among middle-age and older groups
In recent years there has been a steady increase in alcohol consumption in these age groups. Researchers say it is likely to be wealthier individuals who are drinking more, however the report points out that alcohol is 65% more affordable now than in 1980.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation


By Kate Kelland


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