WASHINGTON,– A new study by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has found that alcohol consumption has been responsible for an average 85,000 deaths annually during a three-year period in the Americas, including the Caribbean.
The study, published on Tuesday in the journal Addiction, finds that per capita consumption of alcohol is 25 per cent higher than the global average.
“This study demonstrates that harmful use of alcohol in the Americas is a major public health priority,” said Dr. Anselm Hennis, director of PAHO’s Department of Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health.
“It is associated with preventable deaths and many years of life lived with a disability. We need effective, feasible and sustainable interventions, policies and programs to reduce the consumption of alcohol.”
PAHO said the analysis of mortality data in 30 countries of the Americas – the largest of its kind conducted in the region – reveals some key findings. The study looked at the period 2013-15.
According to the data, an average 85,032 deaths (1.4 per cent of total) annually were solely attributable to alcohol; the majority of deaths (64.9 per cent) occurred in people aged less than 60 years; and the causes of death were mainly due to liver disease (63.9 per cent) and neuropsychiatric disorders (27.4 per cent), such as alcohol dependence.
The study found that alcohol consumption is a contributing factor in more than 300,000 (5.5 percent of total) deaths annually in the Americas.
It says more men than women died from drinking, and that men accounted for 83.1 percent of deaths solely attributable to alcohol consumption.
The study finds that the greatest gender disparities were in El Salvador and Belize, while this gap was smallest in the US and Canada.
The study indicates that high-income countries have higher per capita alcohol consumption while low- and middle-income countries, such as those in the Caribbean, have a higher rate of alcohol-attributable mortality for the same level of drinking.
The higher mortality rates are likely due to comparatively poorer access to medical services, health information, and good nutrition, as well as limited transportation in emergency situations and other factors that could make drinking more harmful, the study finds.
PAHO, therefore, urged countries in the Americas to curb harmful alcohol consumption by increasing taxes on alcohol and implementing comprehensive restrictions on alcohol advertising, promotion and sponsorship.
“Improving the quality of data on alcohol mortality and morbidity is critical for monitoring the impact of alcohol consumption,” it said.
“The policies promoted by PAHO are the key to preventing death, diseases and social problems related to alcohol,” Dr. Hennis said.
“Another simple but powerful measure is to limit the hours of alcohol sales and reduce the concentration of outlets that sell alcohol in a community.”
PAHO’s senior advisor on alcohol, Dr. Maristela Monteiro said, “the study demonstrates that the greatest proportion of deaths fully attributable to alcohol consumption are occurring prematurely among people between the ages of 50 and 59, and mostly among men.
“Harmful use of alcohol is killing people in the prime of their lives. This is a loss not only for their families but also for the economy and the larger society.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, PAHO said alcohol has been promoted through social media channels, adding that its availability has increased in many countries due to easier access to online purchases and home delivery.