We all know that alcohol consumption is bad for the health. Is there any difference in the effect of alcohol consumption based on age, geographical region and sex ? A new analysis in Lancet says that young people face higher health risks from alcohol consumption than older adults.In the first study on alcohol risk by geographical region, age, sex, and year, the researchers also point out that adults aged 40 and older without underlying health conditions may see some benefits from small alcohol consumption (between one and two standard drinks per day, including a reduced risk in cardiovascular disease, stroke, and diabetes.
The analysts estimated alcohol use in 204 countries. They calculated that 1.34 billion people consumed harmful amounts in 2020. In every region, the largest segment of the population drinking unsafe amounts were males aged 15-39 and for this age group. The report mentioned that drinking alcohol did not give any health benefits to this group but only added 60 per cent of alcohol-related injuries, including motor vehicle accidents, suicides, and homicides.
Senior author Dr Emmanuela Gakidou said that te message of their study was simple that young people should not drink, but older people may benefit from drinking small amounts. “While it may not be realistic to think young adults will abstain from drinking, we do think it’s important to communicate the latest evidence so that everyone can make informed decisions about their health,” says the Professor of Health Metrics Sciences at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine.
The researchers looked at the risk of consumption on 22 health outcomes. This includes injuries, cardiovascular diseases, and cancers. They used 2020 Global Burden of Disease data for males and females aged 15-95 years and older between 1990 and 2020, in 204 countries and territories. The study also estimated how much alcohol a person can drink before taking on excess risk to their health compared to someone who does not drink any alcohol.
The recommended amount for people aged 15-39 before risking health loss was 0.136 standard drinks per day (a little more than one-tenth of a standard drink). That amount was slightly higher for females aged 15-39 years at 0.273 drinks (about a quarter of a standard drink per day). One standard drink is defined as 10 grams of pure alcohol, which is equivalent to a small glass of red wine (100ml or 3.4 fluid ounces) at 13% alcohol by volume, a can or bottle of beer (375 ml or 12 fluid ounces) at 3.5% alcohol by volume, or a shot of whiskey or other spirits (30 ml or 1.0 fluid ounces) at 40% alcohol by volume.
In the study, the researchers point out that for adults aged 40 and older without any underlying health conditions, drinking a small amount of alcohol may provide some benefits, such as reducing the risk of ischemic heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. In general, for individuals aged 40-64 years in 2020, safe consumption levels ranged from about half a standard drink per day (0.527 drinks for males and 0.562 standard drinks per day for females) to almost two standard drinks (1.69 standard drinks per day for males and 1.82 for females). For individuals over 65 years in 2020, the risks of health loss from alcohol consumption were reached after consuming a little more than three standard drinks per day (3.19 drinks for males and 3.51 for females). The estimates suggest that small amounts of alcohol consumption in populations over 40 without underlying conditions may be associated with improved health outcomes, particularly in populations that predominantly face a higher burden of cardiovascular diseases.
With respect to region, the analysts found variations in risks from consumption, particularly in individuals aged 40 years and older. For example, among individuals aged 55–59 years in north Africa and the Middle East, 30.7% of alcohol-related health risks were due to cardiovascular disease, 12.6% were due to cancers, and less than 1% were due to tuberculosis. By contrast, in this same age group in central sub-Saharan Africa, 20% of alcohol-related health risks were due to cardiovascular disease, 9.8% cancers, and 10.1% were due to tuberculosis. As a result, consumption levels for this age group before risking health loss were 0.876 drinks (or almost one standard drink per day) in north Africa and the Middle East and 0.596 drinks (about half a standard drink per day) in central sub-Saharan Africa.
The study found that 59.1 per cent who consumed harmful amounts of alcohol in 2020 were in the 15-39 age group. Among them, 76.7 per cent were male with 1.03 billion in numbers. Meanwhile, 0.312 billion females only drank harmful amounts of alcohol. Harmful use of alcohol was particularly concentrated in young males in Australasia, western Europe, and central Europe.
“Although the risks associated with consumption are similar for males and females, young males stood out as the group with the highest level of harmful alcohol consumption. This is because a larger proportion of males compared to females consume alcohol and their average level of consumption is also significantly higher,” says Dr Gakidou.