GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – “Worldwide, 3.3 million deaths in 2012 were due to harmful use of alcohol,” says the World Health Organization (WHO). The Geneva-based organization 12 May published the “Global status report on alcohol and health 2014”.
The new report provides country profiles for alcohol consumption and problems such as heavy episodic drinking in the 194 WHO member states, including assessments of the impact on public health problems and policy. The details for each country in comparison with others shows some significant differences. Consumption is on the rise in the US, for example,where a larger part of the population abstains than in France, where consumption is falling.
The report draws attention to the need to reduce the harmful use of alcohol, calling for greater efforts by governments to educate and protect populations from “negative health consequences of alcohol consumption.”
“Some countries are already strengthening measures to protect people. These include increasing taxes on alcohol, limiting the availability of alcohol by raising the age limit, and regulating the marketing of alcoholic beverages,” the WHO says in a press release linked to the report’s publication.
“Alcohol consumption can not only lead to dependence but also increases people’s risk of developing more than 200 diseases including liver cirrhosis and some cancers. In addition, harmful drinking can lead to violence and injuries,” the WHO notes, adding that “harmful use of alcohol makes people more susceptible to infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and pneumonia.”
While the emphasis is on “harmful use”, without a direct link to consumption levels, the WHO nevertheless makes an indirect link, noting that “Globally, Europe is the region with the highest consumption of alcohol per capita, with some of its countries having particularly high consumption rates. Trend analysis shows that the consumption level is stable over the last 5 years in the region, as well as in Africa and the Americas, though increases have been reported in the South-East Asia and the Western Pacific regions.”
The WHO press release notes:
“On average every person in the world aged 15 years or older drinks 6.2 litres of pure alcohol per year. But as less than half the population (38.3%) actually drinks alcohol, this means that those who do drink consume on average 17 litres of pure alcohol annually.
The report also points to the fact that a higher percentage of deaths among men than among women are from alcohol-related causes – 7.6% of men’s deaths and 4% of women’s deaths – though there is evidence that women may be more vulnerable to some alcohol-related health conditions compared to men. In addition, the authors note that there is concern over the steady increase in alcohol use among women.
‘We found that worldwide about 16% of drinkers engage in heavy episodic drinking – often referred to as ‘binge-drinking’ – which is the most harmful to health,” explains Dr Shekhar Saxena, Director for Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO. “Lower-income groups are more affected by the social and health consequences of alcohol. They often lack quality health care and are less protected by functional family or community networks.'”