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The health risks associated with drinking are ‘massive’ and there is no safe level of alcohol use, according to major new research published in The Lancet. Using data from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study (GBD) 2016, the research shows that almost 3 million deaths worldwide were attributed to alcohol use in 2016, including 12% of deaths for males aged 15–49 years.

Researchers looked at figures for 195 countries over a 26-year period for consumption levels, deaths and more than 20 alcohol-related conditions including cirrhosis, pancreatitis, cancers and cardiovascular diseases. In total, the review investigated 592 studies including 28 million people worldwide. After studying the health risks associated with alcohol, the researchers concluded that any possible protective effects of moderate drinking are outweighed by its adverse effects on other aspects of health, particularly cancers.

Worldwide, more than 2 billion people claimed to be current drinkers in 2016, more than 60% of whom were male. Seven of the 10 countries with the highest death rates were in Eastern Europe, the Baltic or Central Asia – Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, Mongolia, Latvia and Kazakhstan. Conversely, eight of the 10 lowest death rates were in the Middle East.

Drinking in the UK

The study showed that British women drink an average of three drinks a day, and rank eighth in the world of highest drinkers, behind Ukraine, Andorra, Luxembourg, Belarus, Sweden, Denmark and Ireland. British men by contrast, ranked 62nd out of the 195 countries surveyed, even though they also drink on average three alcoholic drinks a day. This is because the drinking levels were far higher generally among men, with Romanian men drinking more than eight drinks a day. Both Portugal and Luxembourg men drank over seven drinks daily.

“The health risks associated with alcohol are massive”, said the study’s senior author, Dr Emmanuela Gakidou. “Our findings are consistent with other recent research, which found clear and convincing correlations between drinking and premature death, cancer and cardiovascular problems.”

“Zero alcohol consumption minimises the overall risk of health loss. With the largest collected evidence base to date, our study makes the relationship between health and alcohol clear – drinking causes substantial health loss, in myriad ways, all over the world. There is a compelling and urgent need to overhaul policies to encourage either lowering people’s levels of alcohol consumption or abstaining entirely.”

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