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Study Shows Alcohol Balance Sheet


Study shows alcohol balance sheet

Note: embargoed until 6am Friday 15 April

While alcohol consumption saves lives as well as takes them, New Zealand comes out on the wrong side of the equation. Research published in this week ’s New Zealand Medical Journal (pdf attached) shows this country had a net loss of 56 lives in the year 2000, with 1037 deaths attributed to alcohol consumption and 981 deaths prevented by it.

What’s more, the alcohol-related deaths tend to be of younger people than those whose lives are saved by it. A total of 17,200 ‘life years’ were lost through alcohol but only 5300 life years gained, meaning a net loss of almost 12,000 life years.

“This study shows that steady and moderate consumption of alcohol - one or perhaps two standard drinks a day - may have some health benefit,” said NZMA Chairman Dr Ross Boswell. “But clearly the way many New Zealanders drink causes harm.

“The effect of alcohol consumption on young people also reinforces our view that the drinking age should be raised to 20 as an urgent public health measure,” he said. “We will be urging the Government to show leadership on this issue.”

The research team at Auckland University, led by Dr Jennie Connor, found that injury was the biggest cause of years of life lost, while the positive effects were largely due to reduced deaths from coronary disease and stroke in elderly people.

The team also calculated losses and gains in morbidity (injury and illness) from alcohol consumption in the year 2002. This too showed a net loss, with three-quarters of those affected being men.

Five main points emerge from the analysis:

· There are no health benefits from drinking alcohol before middle age.

· Drinking patterns have a big effect on health, with binge and occasional heavy drinking being harmful and light to moderate daily intake being more beneficial.

· Injuries make up more than half of the alcohol related deaths and three-quarters of the injuries. A quarter of the deaths were caused by cancer and the other quarter by other chronic diseases.

· Alcohol-use disorders underlie many adverse effects.

· While the sample figures are small, it appears that health impact of alcohol falls inequitably upon Maori.


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