More than 3m people died as a result of harmful alcohol use in 2016, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), representing one in 20 deaths worldwide. More than three quarters of those who died were men, with alcohol now responsible for more than 5 per cent of the global disease burden.
Despite some ‘positive global trends’, the overall burden of disease and injuries caused by alcohol is ‘unacceptably high’, particularly in Europe and the Americas, says Global status report on alcohol and health 2018. Of all the deaths attributable to alcohol, 28 per cent were the result of injuries – including traffic accidents and violence – while 21 per cent were due to digestive disorders, 19 per cent to cardiovascular diseases and the remainder the result of cancers, infectious diseases, mental health disorders and other health conditions.
Globally, an estimated 2.3bn people are current drinkers, with 237m men and 46m women suffering from alcohol use disorders. These are most common in high-income countries, with prevalence rates of 14.8 and 3.5 per cent for men and women respectively in the European region and 11.5 and 5.1 per cent in the region of the Americas. Although drinking levels in Europe have been falling since the start of the decade, the region still has the highest per capita consumption in the world.
Worldwide, 45 per cent of total recorded alcohol consumption is in the form of spirits, 34 per cent beer and 12 per cent wine, with the average consumption among those who drink standing at 33 grams of pure alcohol per day, the equivalent of two 150ml glasses of wine.
‘All countries can do much more to reduce the health and social costs of the harmful use of alcohol,’ said coordinator of WHO’s management of substance abuse unit, Dr Vladimir Poznyak. ‘Proven, cost-effective actions include increasing taxes on alcoholic drinks, bans or restrictions on alcohol advertising, and restricting the physical availability of alcohol.’
Meanwhile, a new study by the Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA) claims that fewer than 10 per cent of alcohol labels in the UK carry the government’s current 14 units per week guidelines. A review of 320 labels in 12 locations across the country found that most products displayed out of date guidelines and carried no health warnings.
‘Once again we see that the alcohol industry cannot be trusted to provide the public with health information,’ said AHA chair Professor Sir Ian Gilmore. ‘We all have the right to know what we are drinking and the fact that alcohol increases our risk of seven types of cancer, liver disease, heart disease and stroke. Few of us know or understand these risks or are aware of the CMO’s advice.’