More Than 3 Million Deaths — 1 in 20 Globally — Linked to Alcohol Use, WHO Report Finds

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Over three million people died from alcohol consumption in 2016, equating to 1 in 20 deaths globally, according to a new report by the World Health Organization.

More than 75% of these deaths were among men, says the report published Friday.

The largest cause of death — 28% — was due to injuries. This was followed by 21% of deaths due to digestive disorders and 19% due to cardiovascular diseases. The remaining causes of death were infectious diseases, cancers, mental disorders and other health conditions attributable to drinking alcohol.

“The Alcohol consumption level continues to be very high,” said Dr. Vladimir Poznyak, WHO’s Management of Substance Abuse Coordinator during a press conference. “All countries can do much more to reduce the health and social costs of the harmful use of alcohol.”

Alcohol consumption was also found to cause more than 5% of the global disease burden and reported to be a causal factor in over 200 disease and injury conditions.

An estimated 237 million men and 46 million women worldwide are affected by disorders due to alcohol consumption, with the European region most affected, followed by the Americas.

“Far too many people, their families and communities suffer the consequences of the harmful use of alcohol,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO. “It’s time to step up action to prevent this serious threat to the development of healthy societies.”

Alcohol is consumed by an estimated 2.3 billion people globally, according to WHO, and school surveys point out that most children start consuming alcohol before the age of 15.

Worldwide, 45% of alcohol is consumed as spirits, followed by beer (34%) then wine (12%).

A recent study found that no amount of alcohol is safe for your overall health, with any benefits offset by higher risks of cancer, cardiovascular disease and other conditions.

“While there may be a slight benefit to heart and circulatory health from modest drinking, many studies have shown that the overall health risks of drinking alcohol outweigh any benefits,” said Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation in a previous report.

The report suggests that global alcohol consumption per capita will increase over the next ten years, especially in the South-East Asia and Western Pacific Region and the Americas.

Though 95% of countries impose taxes on alcohol, the World Health Organization expects more actions to be undertaken by countries, adding that fewer than half of them use other price strategies such as banning below-cost selling or volume discounts.

The member states of the WHO agreed in 2010 on ten measures to reduce harmful use of alcohol, such as pricing policies and actions on marketing and alcohol availability. As part of the agreement they declared “its associated health and social burden” as a “public health priority.”

“Reducing harmful alcohol consumption globally will serve [to] improve the health and wellbeing of humanity as a whole,” said epidemiologist Steven Bell from the University of Cambridge, who was not involved with the report.

“In the last decade or so there has been a steady reversal in thinking regarding the association of alcohol consumption with disease, specifically focused on challenging the preconception that moderate drinking has a net beneficial effect on health, and large efforts made to counteract the so-called binge drinking culture,” added Bell.

“Instilling this knowledge and preventing heavy drinking becoming the norm as early in life as possible is likely to accrue the greatest gains in healthy life expectancy, however, it is almost never too late to make positive changes in health-related behaviors to improve your overall wellbeing.

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