The World Health Organization is calling for action to reduce the harmful use of alcohol, which kills 2.5 million people every year. A new WHO report notes nearly four percent of all global deaths is related to alcohol abuse.
WHO says the harmful use of alcohol now is the third leading risk factor leading to illness and death from non-communicable and communicable disease.
It says most alcohol-related deaths are caused by injuries from drunk driving, cancer, liver cirrhosis, heart disease and stroke. It says alcohol abuse also contributes to 200 other diseases.
Worldwide, the report finds more than six percent of all male deaths are related to alcohol, compared to just over one percent for females. It says one in five men in the Russian Federation and neighboring countries die from alcohol-related causes.
Moderate alcohol consumption may have beneficial effects on health. These include decreased risk for heart disease and mortality due to heart disease, decreased risk of ischemic stroke (in which the arteries to the brain become narrowed or blocked, resulting in reduced blood flow), and decreased risk of diabetes.
Director of the Department of Mental Health and substance Abuse at WHO, Shekhar Saxena, says alcohol is responsible for one-third of deaths among young people in some regions of the world. “Consumption and harmful effects of alcohol are increasing in developing countries, particularly in Africa and Asia, which have less powerful regulations and which have less health services available … In Africa and Asia, the trend is for more drinking to be there, more per capital consumption and in Europe and America, it is a more stable pattern of drinking,” Saxena said.
The prevalence of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) in the United States was estimated by the Institute of Medicine in 1996 to be between 0.5 and 3.0 cases per 1,000.
In 2005, the report says worldwide per capita consumption of alcohol among persons aged 15 -years or older amounts to 6.13 liters of pure alcohol. Though alcohol use is widespread, WHO notes most people do not drink. Latest information shows almost half of all men and two-thirds of women did not consume alcohol in 2005.
Dr. Saxena says people who are dependent on alcohol live on average 10 years less than those who do not have problems with alcohol. “A large proportion of the deaths and disability because of alcohol is actually in the young and middle ages and not in the old ages. So, I think a large proportion of what we are talking about in the 2.5 million deaths are in the age groups of people who should not die at that age. These are premature deaths … The majority of deaths is below the age of 60,” Saxena said.
WHO says its Global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol includes a range of proven effective measures. These include raising taxes on alcohol, reducing the number of outlets for buying alcohol, raising the drinking age limit, enacting effective drink-driving measures and banning some alcohol advertising.
U.S. Department of Agriculture. Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, pp. 355, 359. Available at: http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/sites/default/files/dietary_guidelines_for_americans/2010DGACReport-camera-ready-Jan11-11.pdf