Radio Sputnik discussed this with Professor Sonia Saxena, who is a researcher at Imperial College London and a practicing GP.
Sputnik: This particular study is going to have a lot of people disappointed. Not least myself and my fellow colleague here, we like to drink the odd glass of wine and champagne; is our life now over?
Sonia Saxena: In order to make decisions which are entirely up to you, you need good information and that's what we've set up. This is an enormous global study that's looked at 195 countries' drinking patterns; across all those countries over a period of 26 years from 1990 to 2016. What we have found is that across the world about a third of people are drinking alcohol regularly, but in some countries, nearly everybody is.
Clearly, in the westernized nations, North America, South America and across Europe nearly everybody is drinking. But we are not all drinking the same amount; some of us are drinking well in excess of the recommended limit. Those limits need to be reviewed because what we've found contrary to the previous work, is that when you take it into context, there is an additional health risk with every additional alcoholic drink you take. How you then think about those risks is entirely up to individuals.
Sonia Saxena: This is a really enormous and rigorously conducted epidemiological study, where unlike previous studies that have largely relied on self-reporting, which is a little bit unreliable at times, in this study we've done a number of things that have actually made the estimates much more accurate. For example, looking at sales data for alcohol, making accounting for the influx of tourism and alcohol consumed as a result of tourism, a number of statistical techniques that allow us to adjust all those risks compared with people who abstain, and actually extending the number of countries, the coverage, as well.
It goes well beyond many of the studies that we've seen before. The modest benefits seen from some studies against heart disease, for example, for drinking one or two units. That message I think now, if you put it into context of all of the conditions that you've have adverse health effect from, this message now has to be dropped. There is really no benefit to taking alcohol into your body on an individual basis; and on the population and societal level it really is creating a huge health burden as a result of alcohol.
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