Are Aussies drinking too much?

young men and women clinking glasses

According to a WHO report, Australians are drinking at levels much higher than the global average and outside low-risk recommendations – especially men and boys

The World Health Organization (WHO) has released a new edition of its Global status report on alcohol and health for 2018.

Its report presents a comprehensive picture of alcohol consumption and the disease burden attributable to alcohol worldwide.

More than three million people died as a result of harmful use of alcohol in 2016, representing 1 in 20 deaths, says the WHO.

More than three quarters of these deaths were among men.

According to the latest data from 2016, Australians drink 10.6 litres of pure alcohol each year, much higher than the global average of 6.4 litres or the Western Pacific Region average of 7.3 litres.

More than half (56%) of alcohol consumed in Australia is done above the level of the low-risk guidelines that are aimed at helping people avoid chronic health harm, the report found.

Prevalence of heavy episodic drinking is high, especially among males where 53.6% of those aged 15+ engaged in this behaviour in 2016.

This shot up to 70.8% for males aged 15-19 years who drink alcohol.

Nearly a fifth (18.6%) of women aged 15+ reported heavy episodic drinking, rising to 34.1% of females aged 15-19 who drink alcohol.

Meanwhile a significant amount of Australian women are abstainers, with nearly a third (29.4%) of females aged 15+ reporting to have abstained from alcohol in the past 12 months.

Of these, 16.5% were former drinkers.

Among men, 11.7% of those aged 15+ had abstained from drinking alcohol in the past 12 months, with 7.7% of these being former drinkers.

In 2016, the alcohol-attributable fraction for liver cirrhosis was 74.1% in men and 62.5% in women (total alcohol-attributable deaths, both sexes: 1159).

Alcohol consumption accounted for 48% of road traffic injuries in men and 30.9% in women (total alcohol-attributable deaths, both sexes: 534).

It also accounted for 7.1% of cancer deaths in men and 3.7% in women (total alcohol-attributable deaths, both sexes: 2577).

Regarding public health policies and interventions to reduce harm, the report highlights that Australia has no legally binding regulations on alcohol sponsorship or sales promotion.

Australia also has no legally required health warning labels on alcohol, and does not have restrictions for on-/off-premise sales of alcoholic beverages.

However it does have legally binding regulations on alcohol advertising and product placement, and an excise tax on beer, wine and spirits.

Cultural acceptance of drinking, and often drinking more than one or two drinks, is an element in the concept of ‘responsible drinking’ actively promoted by alcohol producers, reads the report.

“Different forms of responsibility message—often combined with branding and other product promotion—are ambiguous in terms of any concrete meaning, failing for instance to define when to stop drinking, or to suggest the option of not drinking, and reinforcing the notion that decisions to drink responsibly (or not) lie with the consumers and not with the policy, social and marketing environments,” says the WHO.

“The moralising tone implicit in ‘responsible’ thus turns attention from risks inherent in the product, pointing instead to deficiencies in the drinker as the cause of any health or social problems associated with drinking.

“In contrast, advice on drinking from public health authorities has moved away from this position, instead emphasising concepts such as ‘low-risk drinking’, as in the official guidelines of Australia and the UK.

“The accumulated evidence indicates that alcohol consumption is associated with inherent health risks, although these risks vary in magnitude and the health consequences of drinking may be delayed in time.

“On the population level, any level of alcohol consumption leads to losses of healthy life.”

Read the full report here

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