Not in high spirits: Indians drinking more, says WHO study on alcohol and health

alcohol-hastens-liquor-drinking (File) Representational image

Indians seem to be holding their liquor well, literally. According to the WHO's latest report on alcohol and health, Indians have been drinking more in the past decade, and alcohol consumption is only seem to be rising.

According to WHO's 'global status report on alcohol and health 2018', globally, an estimated 2.3 billion are current drinkers. Alcohol is consumed by more than half of the population in three WHO regions— the Americas, Europe and the Western Pacific. Though Europe has the highest per capita consumption in the world—although its per capita consumption has decreased by more than 10 per cent since 2010—the increase in alcohol per capita consumption (litres of pure alcohol consumed per person per year) is expected particularly in Southeast Asia and Western Pacific Regions, and the Americas over the next decade.

The upward trends are already visible in the hugely populated countries of India and China, says the report. Per capita consumption of alcohol in India went up from 2.4 litres in 2005, to 5.7 litres in 2016. Most Indians drank spirits, few drank beer (8 per cent) and even fewer drank wine (less than per cent), the report said. The Chinese drank a lot too—4.1 litres in 2005 to 7.2 litres in 2016. The Chinese drank more beer (30 per cent) and less wine (3 per cent).

Worldwide, 45 per cent of total recorded alcohol is consumed in the form of spirits. Beer is the second alcoholic beverage in terms of pure alcohol consumed (34 per cent) followed by wine (12 per cent). There have been only minor changes in preferences of alcoholic beverages since 2010. The largest changes took place in Europe, where consumption of spirits decreased by 3 per cent whereas that of wine and beer increased.

The average daily consumption of people who drink alcohol is 33 grams of pure alcohol a day, roughly equivalent to two glasses (each of 150 ml) of wine, a large (750 ml) bottle of beer or two shots (each of 40 ml) of spirits.

All this drinking is not without consequences. World over, more than three million people died as a result of harmful use of alcohol in 2016, implying that one in 20 deaths was due to drinking. More than three quarters of these deaths were among men, the report says. Overall, the harmful use of alcohol causes more than 5 per cent of the global disease burden, according to the study. Of all deaths attributable to alcohol, 28 per cent were due to injuries, such as those from traffic crashes, self-harm and interpersonal violence; 21 per cent due to digestive disorders; 19per cent due to cardiovascular diseases, and the remainder due to infectious diseases, cancers, mental disorders and other health conditions.

The WHO study has come a month after the leading journal The Lancet published a study on the health impact of alcohol. The study said there was no safe limit for drinking alcohol, and that any benefit associated with low levels of intake are outweighed by the increased risk of other health-related harms, including cancer.

“All countries can do much more to reduce the health and social costs of the harmful use of alcohol,” Vladimir Poznyak, coordinator of WHO’s Management of Substance Abuse unit, said in an official statement from the WHO. “Proven, cost-effective actions include increasing taxes on alcoholic drinks, bans or restrictions on alcohol advertising, and restricting the physical availability of alcohol.”

Higher-income countries are more likely to have introduced these policies, raising issues of global health equity and underscoring the need for greater support to low and middle-income countries.

Almost all (95 per cent) countries have alcohol excise taxes, but fewer than half of them use other price strategies such as banning below-cost selling or volume discounts, the WHO said. The majority of countries have some type of restriction on beer advertising, with total bans most common for television and radio, but less common for the internet and social media.

“We would like to see member states implement creative solutions that will save lives, such as taxing alcohol and restricting advertising. We must do more to cut demand and reach the target set by governments of a 10 per cent relative reduction in consumption of alcohol globally between 2010 and 2025,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO.