It now appears that the one or two drinks a couple of times a week, touted for long as moderate drinking, isn’t healthy. A study published by medical journal TheLancet claims risk of mortality rises with increase in alcohol consumption, and there is no level of consumption that minimises loss of health. It also says that in 2016, close to 2.8 million deaths globally were due to alcohol consumption.
The study analysed data from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study (GBD) 2016 for 195 countries and territories. It says in terms of overall disease burden, alcohol use led to 1.6% of total disability adjusted life years (DALY) among females and 6% among males. The report adds that alcohol use was ranked as the seventh leading risk factor for premature death and disability in 2016, compared to other risk factors, and the widely held belief in alcohol’s health benefits needs to be revised. “Our results show that the safest level of drinking is none,” it claims.
Dr. Pankaj Chaturvedi, head and neck surgeon at Tata Memorial Hospital who co-authored the study, says data from India was taken from the National Family Health Survey 4, among other sources. “Alcohol is the biggest cause of non-communicable diseases (NCD), which leads to 63% deaths. The World Health Organization and United Nations have claimed that the second-most preventable cause of NCD is alcohol. Despite several discussions on its harmful effects, there is no policy in India to discourage alcohol use.”
He said alcohol comes under the jurisdictions of the excise and social justice departments. “How can one expect the Excise department to handle a health subject when their mandate is to bring in more revenue? On the other hand, the Social Justice department looks at it as a social and moral issue, which is not the correct approach either.”
The Lancet study also emphasises on revision of alcohol control policies worldwide and refocusing efforts to lower overall population-level consumption. Dr. Chaturvedi said that the consumption of alcohol is steadily increasing in India. “We are now the second largest producer of alcohol in the world with 20% annual growth in sales. The country, which has seen a rapid proliferation of bars and nightclubs, is fast shedding its inhibitions about alcohol as a lifestyle choice.”
Even though Indians are among the lowest consumers of alcohol worldwide, concerns remain, like average age of initiation into alcohol use which has come down from 28 in the 1980s to 17 in 2007. The country also has a large number of heavy drinkers, who consume more than 75ml per day or almost every day of the week.