Landmark Study: No Level of Alcohol Use Improves Health

New landmark study shows that no level of alcohol consumption improves health or is good for health.

The level of alcohol consumption that minimised harm across health outcomes was zero standard alcohol drinks per week,” write the researchers in the summary of their study.

This systematic analysis from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study (GBD) 2016 for 195 countries and territories, 1990–2016, is the most comprehensive estimate of the global burden of alcohol use that has ever been compiled. This latest GBD analysis applies state-of-the-art epidemiology and uses methodological enhancements of previous iterations of the GBD to produce a definitive understanding of alcohol-related harm.

Alcohol Use, Burden, Policy: Systematic Analysis For Global Burden Of Disease Study 2016

Remarkable findings about alcohol use, burden and policy solutions

The GBD 2016 Alcohol Collaborators clearly demonstrate the substantial, and larger than previously estimated, contribution of alcohol to death, disability, and ill health, on global scale.

Remarkable disease and death burden

In 2016, alcohol use was the seventh leading risk factor for both deaths and disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs).

A disproportionate burden is borne by young people and younger adults aged 15 to 49 years of age, where alcohol ranks as the leading cause of DALYs. In this population, alcohol use was the leading risk factor globally in 2016.

Remarkable finding regarding alcohol’s believed health benefits

The study considers the extent to which moderate levels of consumption are protective for some health conditions. The level of consumption that minimises an individual’s risk is zero grams of ethanol per week.

Remarkable alcohol policy conclusions

The new study also clearly shows that the harmful impact of alcohol extends beyond health into families, communities, crime and safety, as well as the workplace. Evidence illustrating the extent and magnitude of alcohol harm to others than the alcohol users is increasingly emerging. Alcohol’s harm to others is therefore emerging as a critical consideration of policy solutions at both national and local levels.

The conclusions of the study are clear and unambiguous: alcohol is a massive obstacle to promoting global health and achieving development. Small reductions in health-related harms at low levels of alcohol consumption are outweighed by the increased risk of other health-related harms, including cancer.

The findings highlight that alcohol control policies need to be revised worldwide, refocusing on efforts to lower overall population-level consumption. The most impactful and cost-effective means to prevent and reduce alcohol-related harms are the so-called alcohol policy best buys:

  • to reduce affordability through taxation or price regulation, including setting a minimum price per unit (MUP),
  • to ban or restrict alcohol advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and
  • to limit the physical availability of alcohol.

These approaches should come as no surprise because these are also the most effective measures for curbing tobacco-related harms, another commercially mediated disease, with an increasing body of evidence showing that controlling obesity will require the same measures,” write Sheron and Burton, two commentators of the landmark study, in The Lancet.