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Why alcohol limits and unit guidelines could be completely wrong

School of Business academic co-authors paper on alcohol use in one of the world's most prestigious general medical journals.

Professor Marcel Ausloos, Professor in Finance at the University of Leicester School of Business, has co-authored a paper in The Lancet explaining that alcohol use is a leading risk factor for global disease and causes substantial health loss. 

The results suggest that alcohol control policies might need to be revised worldwide, refocusing on efforts to lower global consumption of alcohol. The research suggests that the safest level of drinking is none.

The researchers studied 195 locations from 1990 to 2016, for both sexes and for 5-year age groups between the ages of 15 years and 95 years and older. With a comprehensive approach to health accounting within the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study 2016, they generated improved estimates of alcohol use and alcohol-attributable deaths and disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) from across the globe.

Professor Ausloos and his co-authors found that the risk of all-cause mortality, and of cancers specifically, rises with increasing levels of consumption of alcohol. They also found that the level of consumption that minimises health loss is zero.

Globally, alcohol use was the seventh leading risk factor for both deaths and DALYs in 2016. For the population aged 15–49 years the three leading causes of attributable deaths in this age group were tuberculosis, road injuries, and self-harm. For populations aged 50 years and older, cancers accounted for a large proportion of total alcohol-attributable deaths in 2016, constituting 27.1% of total alcohol-attributable female deaths and 18.9% of male deaths.

As a statistical analysis it is important to note that it is difficult to take into account the differences between how much alcohol is bought by people traveling through countries such as Luxembourg and Andorra compared with how much is bought by those who live there. Statistically countries may appear to have a large proportion of alcohol-attributable deaths but these variables should be considered when looking at percentages.

Professor Ausloos explains the findings: “Alcohol use is a leading risk factor for global disease burden and causes substantial health loss. We found that the risk of all-cause mortality, and of cancers specifically, rises with increasing levels of consumption.

“Alcohol use is a leading risk factor for disease burden worldwide, accounting for nearly 10% of global deaths among populations aged 15–49 years, and poses dire ramifications for future population health in the absence of policy action today. The widely held view of the health benefits of alcohol needs revising, particularly as improved methods and analyses continue to show how much alcohol use contributes to global death and disability. Our results show that the safest level of drinking is none. This level is in conflict with most health guidelines, which espouse health benefits associated with consuming up to two drinks per day.”

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