The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) estimated that one drink a day increases the risk of developing "alcohol related-diseases including cancer, diabetes and tuberculosis."
Numerous previous studies have shown that moderate drinking levels can boost protection against certain diseases. Sputnik spoke with Dr. Max Griswold, the IHME study's lead author for additional insight into the time-honored pastime of knocking back one or more alcoholic beverages at the end of a long day.
Sputnik: Can you tell us more about the study and how it was carried out?
We did this research over the course of three years, collecting approximately 700 surveys on alcohol prevalence and consumption, along with about 600 prospective cohort studies of alcohol use and risk of the 23 outcomes mentioned in the article. We also included necessary data for the analysis on alcohol sales, tourism, and unrecorded consumption (e.g. illicit sales and home production).
We tried to be as comprehensive as possible, searching all of PubMed, the global health data repository, and Google Scholar for alcohol-related articles between 1990 and 2016. We wanted to obtain as clear a picture as possible of who is drinking and what its effects are for population health.
Sputnik: How did you obtain new information about the impact of alcohol and how does it differ from previously collected data?
Many previous studies have used only alcohol sales data (which ignores tourism and unrecorded consumption) or alcohol surveys (which estimate the amount of alcohol consumed) to determine global alcohol consumption patterns. In our study, we built off the work of Jurgen Rehm to leverage all of this information together, developing several new methods in the process, to give us accurate consumption amounts that make cross-national comparisons possible.
The second are where differ from other studies is we performed new meta-analyses; the evidence-base we have collected here is without parallel. We really wanted to get the full picture of the risks and benefits involved with alcohol use. We also used some new statistical analysis to get more information out of the data, which let the data speak for itself a little bit more and didn't require us to make as many assumptions as other studies.
Dr Max Griswold: It's a little hard to say at the individual level, since every person's risk will be different. We estimated in this study that the risk is approximately 0.5% higher than the baseline risk.
That doesn't sound like that much for an individual (an extra 1 in 200 chance of developing one of the 23 conditions outlined in the study) but our concern was at what we call the population-level, which is what politicians and medical professionals care more about. To put that number in context, if all 2.4 billion drinkers drank at the level of one drink per day, there would still be about 150k deaths globally.
That's much less than the 2.8 million deaths in 2016 we're estimating in the study but I would argue it's not a negligible amount when it comes to preventable deaths.
Dr Max Griswold: Alcohol consumption in general is pretty serious. As mentioned, 2.8 million people died in 2016 alone from alcohol use. That's a large public health concern, that nearly 3 million people are dying each year and those deaths could have been prevented. If we could get to the point where drinkers are consuming only one drink a day, that would be phenomenal and many lives would be saved. However, not enough policy is being done to get us to that level.
For example, here in the US, alcohol taxes were just lowered, but higher taxes are one of the best ways to reduce population consumption. Some countries are doing great work in regards to treatment and prevention. An example is Scotland, which has introduced minimum unit pricing, and hopefully that will reduce consumption. Regardless, it's clear our policy-makers could be doing a lot more to help reduce all of these preventable deaths.
Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr Max Griswold and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.