Alcohol consumption is a “colossal global health issue” and the safest level of consumption is zero.
A large scale study of health issues and mortality across 195 countries spanning the period from 1990 to 2016 concludes there is no safe level of consumption.
The study is published in the current issue of Lancet and questions some suggestion that there is any benefit of small levels of consumption for alleged cardiovascular benefits.
The study concludes that any level of benefit is outweighed by risk – effectively quashing the oft-cited benefit of consuming low levels of booze.
“The conclusions of the study are clear and unambiguous: alcohol is a colossal global health issue and small reductions in health-related harms at low levels of alcohol intake are outweighed by the increased risk of other health-related harms, including cancer,” says the study.
“There is strong support here for the guideline published by the Chief Medical Officer of the UK who found that there is “no safe level of alcohol consumption”.”
“The findings have further ramifications for public health policy, and suggest that policies that operate by decreasing population-level consumption should be prioritized.”
“The most effective and cost-effective means to reduce alcohol-related harms are to reduce affordability through taxation or price regulation, including setting a minimum price per unit (MUP), closely followed by marketing regulation, and restrictions on the physical availability of alcohol.”
“These approaches should come as no surprise because these are also the most effective measures for curbing tobacco-related harms, another commercially mediated disease, with an increasing body of evidence showing that controlling obesity will require the same measures,” states the study.
“These diseases of unhealthy behaviours, facilitated by unhealthy environments and fuelled by commercial interests putting shareholder value ahead of the tragic human consequences, are the dominant health issue of the 21st century.
“The solutions are straightforward: increasing taxation creates income for hard-pressed health ministries, and reducing the exposure of children and adolescents to alcohol marketing has no downsides.”
The outlook is promising: the UK has just embarked on a huge controlled natural experiment with a progressive evidence-based alcohol strategy in place in Scotland, and with similar measures planned in Northern Ireland and Wales, with England as the placebo control.
The benefits of controls through price hikes and government strategies will reduce mortality and these benefits will increasingly pressure others “to extend these measures across Europe and elsewhere will start to rise.”
“The most surprising finding was that even small amounts of alcohol use contribute to health loss globally. We’re used to hearing that a drink or two a day is fine. But the evidence is the evidence,” said senior study author Emmanuela Gakidou, a professor at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
2.8 million people die each year as a result of alcohol caused health issues.
The study was conducted by 512 researchers from 243 institutions.