The WHO's Measures are Showing Results

The World Health Organization has recorded a decrease in alcohol consumption in its "Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health." However, it does not yet consider its goal achieved.

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Image: Created by AI, Adobe Firefly (prompts by Peter Douglas)
Image: Created by AI, Adobe Firefly (prompts by Peter Douglas)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has released its "Global status report on alcohol and health and treatment of substance use disorders." The report is based on data collected by member states from 2010 to 2019 (prior to the pandemic).

Despite a decline in consumption, the WHO maintains its guideline that “no level of alcohol consumption is safe for our health." Current trends suggest that the global goal of reducing alcohol consumption by at least 20% by 2030 compared to 2010 will not be met. The WHO emphasizes that achieving this goal requires political commitment, strong resource mobilization, and the "consistent implementation of the Global Alcohol Action Plan 2022-2030," with a focus on effective policy measures from the SAFER package. These measures include stricter restrictions on alcohol availability, increased advertising bans for alcohol, and higher taxation.

The WHO wants to reduce consumption using five pillars. (Photo: WHO)
The WHO wants to reduce consumption using five pillars. (Photo: WHO)

Decreasing consumption

Total alcohol consumption has declined from 5.7 liters in 2010 to 5.5 liters in 2019, representing a relative reduction of 4.5%. Europeans consume the most alcohol at 9.2 liters, followed by Americans at 7.5 liters per capita. This results in an average global consumption of 27g of pure alcohol per day, which is associated with "appreciably increased risks of numerous health conditions and associated mortality and disability." The WHO estimates that unrecorded alcohol consumption accounts for 21% of total consumption worldwide, with this proportion being lower in wealthier countries.

The WHO reports that the Covid-19 pandemic reduced alcohol consumption by 10% between 2019 and 2020. It highlights that there are local differences depending on income level and population group.

In 2019, 17% of all individuals aged 15 and older, and 38% of all alcohol consumers, were exposed to very frequent or heavy consumption (at least 60g of pure alcohol in one or more sessions within a month) – commonly referred to as "binge drinkers." Additionally, 6.7% of all men were identified as continuous heavy drinkers.

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Health aspects

In 2019, 2.6m deaths were attributed to alcohol consumption, accounting for 4.7% of all deaths that year. Of these, 2m deaths were men. Young people aged 20 to 39 were particularly affected, representing 13% of alcohol-related deaths in 2019.

The highest mortality rates per 100,000 people were recorded in Europe and on the African continent. Despite these dramatically high numbers, the WHO noted a decline in alcohol use disorders in North and South America, Europe, and the Western Pacific.

By contrast, "promotion of responsible drinking shows positive trends, with more countries implementing stricter purchase age limits and driving under the influence laws.” reports Dr. Ignacio Sánchez Recarte, Secretary General of the Committee of European Wine Companies (CEEV), on LinkedIn. "However, there's more to the story, while deaths are down, reductions in heavy episodic drinking and per capita consumption are smaller, the pandemic's impact is unclear, with a potential short-term decrease in consumption."

Regulations and combating

The WHO aims to further reduce alcohol consumption through the previously mentioned SAFER measures, such as reducing availability, increasing prices through taxation, and regulating advertising. The proportion of countries with a 'written national alcohol policy' has grown by 13% over the past decade. Now, about 56% of the 194 member states have implemented such policies.

According to the WHO, alcohol can influence up to 200 diseases, injuries, and other health conditions, though there is clear scientific evidence linking alcohol consumption to only 31 health conditions.

The complete report can be downloaded here. PD

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