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No health benefits from alcohol before middle age

No health benefits from alcohol before middle age

There are no health benefits of drinking alcohol before middle age, according to new research released today by the Alcohol Advisory Council (ALAC).

The research shows a small amount of alcohol can help prevent heart disease, stroke, diabetes and complications of gallbladder disease.

The research estimates that approximately 1037 deaths in New Zealand in 2000 were attributable to alcohol consumption; representing 3.9 percent of all deaths. Alcohol consumption was also estimated to prevent 981 deaths in the same year, resulting in a net loss of 56 lives. However the deaths resulting from alcohol occur mostly in much younger people than those who receive the benefits.

The burden of mortality from alcohol use was not evenly spread in the population. The rate of alcohol-attributable years of life lost (YLLs) in men was four to five times the rate in women, largely due to high alcohol-related mortality in men in the 15-44 year age group.

The research also shows the health burden of alcohol falls inequitably on Mäori.

Mäori and non-Mäori have different alcohol consumption patterns on average. Non-Maori are more likely to be alcohol drinkers and drink more often, but drink less on a typical drinking occasion, when compared with Mäori. The differences are such that average alcohol consumption per day between Mäori and non-Mäori is similar, but the impacts on health differ substantially.

The combination of more harmful drinking patterns and a smaller proportion of the population in the older age groups where benefits accrue, means that the Mäori population is more adversely affected by alcohol than non-Mäori population.

Almost all health benefits from alcohol consumption are in non-Mäori, and using measures of the health effects of alcohol for the combined NZ population obscures these disparities.

Overall, Mäori had 4 times the alcohol-related mortality of non-Mäori, and more than double the rate of years of life lost due to alcohol.

Injury was a major contributor to alcohol-related mortality, being responsible for 51% of deaths (532 deaths) and 72% of years of life lost (12,434 YLLs). Most alcohol-related deaths before middle age were due to injury. Cancers accounted for a further 24% of alcohol-related deaths and 14% of YLLs, with the remainder being due to other chronic diseases.

The research is contained in The Burden of Death, Disease and Disability due to Alcohol in New Zealand released today by ALAC. ALAC funded the study on the burden of death, disease and disability attributable to alcohol consumption in New Zealand using the comparative risk assessment (CRA) methodology that was developed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for measuring the impact of important risk factors on health at a regional and global level.

Five major messages have emerged from this analysis: There are no health benefits of drinking alcohol before middle age The pattern of drinking is very important in determining the health effects of alcohol consumption Injury is responsible for half of all alcohol-attributable deaths and almost three-quarters of the years of life lost due to alcohol There is a large burden of disability due to alcohol use disorders that is not reflected in mortality figures The health burden of alcohol falls inequitably on Mäori.

The research is being presented at seminars in Wellington on Monday February 7 and in Christchurch on Tuesday 8 February. Presenting the research are ALAC’s visiting fellow Professor Jurgen Rehm who is based at Shore Massey University, and has been part of the team for the New Zealand study.

He is also part of the World Health Organisation and World Bank teams to estimate the contribution of alcohol to the global burden of disease and the implications for policy.

Also presenting are Professor Rod Jackson and Dr Jennie Connor from Auckland University who have completed a series of research projects funded by ALAC looking at the health benefits and risks and alcohol consumption, and who co-authored the report

ALAC Chief Executive Officer Dr Mike MacAvoy says it is increasingly clear that for drinkers consuming the same average volume of alcohol, the pattern of drinking has a major influence on both benefits and harms. Moving towards patterns of drinking that are safer in terms of physical health outcomes is also likely to reduce the unmeasured social consequences of alcohol consumption.

The report will be posted on ALAC’s website site at

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