RCP urges 'change in perception' of alcohol following major global burden study

RCP president Professor Dame Jane Dacre has called for a change in society’s perception of alcohol consumption to 'ensure public education reflects the risks' following a major study of the global burden of alcohol concluded that there was no healthy level of alcohol consumption.

The paper, published in The Lancet, concluded that alcohol use is a leading risk factor for global disease burden and causes substantial health loss. It found that the risk of all-cause mortality, and of cancers specifically, rises with increasing levels of consumption, and the level of consumption that minimises health loss is zero.

These results it said, suggest that alcohol control policies might need to be revised worldwide, refocusing on efforts to lower overall population-level consumption.

In response Professor Dame Jane Dacre said:

This study presents the most detailed evidence so far of the risks to health of drinking. It finally puts to bed the widely-believed myth that drinking in moderation is beneficial for health, as it shows that any benefit to heart health is overridden by the risks of other diseases. In our society, alcohol is cheap, easily available, and widely promoted. 

It finally puts to bed the widely-believed myth that drinking in moderation is beneficial for health, as it shows that any benefit to heart health is overridden by the risks of other diseases.

Professor Dame Jane Dacre

We need to change society’s perception of alcohol and ensure public education reflects the risks, not the outdated perceptions of benefit.

The study was carried out by researchers at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), who investigated levels of alcohol consumption and health effects in 195 countries between 1990 to 2016. They used data from 694 studies to work out how common drinking was and from 592 studies including 28 million people worldwide to work out the health risks. 

Drinking alcohol was a big cause of cancer in the over-50s, particularly in women. Previous research has shown that one in 13 breast cancers in the UK were alcohol-related. The study found that globally, 27.1% of cancer deaths in women and 18.9% in men over 50 were linked to their drinking habits.

In younger people globally the biggest causes of death linked to alcohol were tuberculosis (1.4% of deaths), road injuries (1.2%), and self-harm (1.1%).

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Alcohol