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Worldwide alcohol trends

15 March 2011-- New and comprehensive study on the consumption of alcohol reveals worrying trends on alcohol use around the world.

Transcript of the podcast

Veronica Riemer: You’re listening to the WHO podcast. My name is Veronica Riemer. A new and comprehensive study on the consumption of alcohol reveals worrying trends on alcohol use around the world.

Shekhar Saxena: As many as 2.5 million deaths all over the world can be because of alcohol use. Alcohol now is the third leading factor for risk to health and it is a major contributor to deaths and disability.

Veronica Riemer: That was Dr Shekhar Saxena WHO's Director of the Department for Mental Health and Substance Abuse. Alcohol affects the individual, the family and the community. Excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to cirrhosis of the liver, epilepsy, poisonings, road traffic accidents and several types of cancer. It plays a role in aggression and violence against others, child and spouse abuse and decreased worker productivity.

Dr Shekhar Saxena, explains that alcohol consumption is rapidly increasing in low- and middle-income countries.

Dr Shekhar Saxena: The two regions where we see the most rapid rise in alcohol consumption are Africa and Asia. In Africa the consumption of absolute alcohol per person per year is as much as six litres and that leads to a lot of harm because of rapid drinking and heavy drinking.

We should also realize that in Africa and Asia a large number of people do not drink at all. The people who drink, drink heavily and that leads to very serious health and social consequences. We in WHO see this as an area of major concern for us and we are helping the countries to institute policies which will decrease the harmful use of alcohol.

Veronica Riemer: Dr Joseph Mbatia is the Assistant Director in the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in Tanzania, a country which has a predominantly rural population. In the rural areas, alcohol is linked to community violence, including fighting and the neglect of children. In urban areas, alcohol abuse results in road traffic accidents, exacerbated by the overwhelming use of motorbikes for urban transportation. The Tanzanian Government has introduced laws to limit access to alcohol, but Dr Mbatia explains why they are difficult to implement.

Dr Joseph Mbatia: It is widely available, that is the unfortunate thing and between 80 and 85% of the alcohol consumed locally is unlicensed, so it is from informal sources and that is very difficult to control. There is a legislation which prohibits children under 18 accessing alcohol, buying alcohol but in the rural areas I don't think anyone can supervise that. Having a legislation is one thing but the enforcement mechanisms are lacking, so we need to do a lot of work there to make sure at least the existing legislation works.

Veronica Riemer: Turning to Europe, there are distinctions in alcohol consumption between the western and eastern European countries. In the eastern and central Europe, people drink heavily and choose spirits which are particularly damaging to health. In Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States, one death in every five is due to harmful drinking. In western Europe we find increasing consumption, which is especially fatal for younger age groups. Dr Siomone Steil is Head of the Division for Preventable diseases at the Ministry of Health in Luxembourg.

Dr Siomone Steil: We have high proportion rate of consumers, very low proportion rate of abstainers, only 2% of adults are completely abstaining from regularly alcohol consuming and we have many problems with the new consuming of youngsters and young children and adolescents who are consuming more and more – also the consuming patterns are changing with the problem of binge drinking in public spaces.

Veronica Riemer: Although alcohol consumption in western European countries is high, many have introduced strict alcohol control policies. For example, Norway has one of lowest burdens of harmful use in Europe. Mr Bernt Bull, a Senior Adviser at the Ministry of Health and Care services in Norway, explains how their policy has been successful.

Mr Bernt Bull: The alcohol control policy has been taxation, quite a high level of taxation, but of course being one of the most affluent countries, the affordability has increased very much. People are increasing their consumption. There are regulations on accessibility, on opening hours and we have a full ban on advertising alcohol.

Veronica Riemer: The newly released global status report on alcohol, the first on the subject in seven years, recommends that governments raise alcohol taxes, restrict sales, promote alcoholism prevention and treatment programmes, and ban some alcohol advertising. If you would like more information about the consumption patterns of over 100 countries, the report is available online and can be accessed through the link on the transcript page.

That's all for this podcast, thanks for listening. This is Veronica Riemer at the World Health Organization in Geneva.

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