How Are We Be­ing Harmed?

North & South - - Essay -

A 2015 New Zealand Med­i­cal Jour­nal ar­ti­cle es­ti­mated that 802 deaths of peo­ple up to 80 years of age were at­trib­ut­able to al­co­hol in 2007. Be­cause our drink­ing pat­terns haven’t changed, the on­go­ing an­nual toll is likely to be sim­i­lar.

“Forty per cent of that is caused by in­jury, both in­ten­tional and un­in­ten­tional, in­clud­ing a sub­stan­tial num­ber of sui­cides,” says the ar­ti­cle’s lead author, Jen­nie Con­nor, pro­fes­sor of epi­demi­ol­ogy at Otago Uni­ver­sity. The other 60% ( gen­er­ally later in life) in­volves chronic con­di­tions such as cancers, di­ges­tive and res­pi­ra­tory dis­or­ders and car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease – “and that’s a huge bur­den on ev­ery­one”.

Con­nor says the New Zealand guide­line for safe drink­ing is no more than an av­er­age of 15 drinks a week for men and 10 for women. “But those are small, ho­tel-sized drinks. In re­al­ity, two stan­dard drinks for women equate to one big glass.”

And on any one day, a man shouldn’t have more than five drinks – a woman no more than four.

Con­vinc­ing us that we should curb con­sump­tion is no easy task for re­searchers, es­pe­cially as some sta­tis­tics don’t look too alarm­ing. “Aus­tralia has a sim­i­lar drink­ing guide­line and it es­ti­mated that your chance of dy­ing of drink over a life­time – if you drink at the guide­line level – would be 1%.

“Of course, peo­ple say, well that’s not much. But it’s quite high risk for a com­mod­ity that’s be­ing sold to us.”

Con­nor says it’s well ac­cepted across so­ci­ety that hav­ing a lit­tle al­co­hol is harm­less and even ben­e­fi­cial. “But the ev­i­dence for that is in fact weak.”

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