The UK is being urged to restrict alcohol advertising during the winter months after a new study found a clear link between cold, dark climates and alcohol abuse.
The study, published in the journal Hepatology, compared data from the World Health Organization and the World Meteorological Organization to assess the impact of climate on alcohol consumption. The conclusion was that as the average temperature and hours of sunlight decreased, the total alcohol intake per person, the percentage of the population that drinks alcohol, and the incidence of binge drinking all increased.
“This is the first study that systematically demonstrates that… in colder areas and areas with less sun, you have more drinking and more alcoholic cirrhosis”, said Ramon Bataller, a senior author on the study and Associate Director of the Pittsburgh Liver Research Centre. Adding that “people with a genetic predisposition to alcoholism should maybe avoid living in a very cold place as they will probably drink more”.
Dr Peter McCann, who is medical advisor to the Castle Craig Hospital, a residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinic in the Scottish Borders, said the study had implications for the UK, which experiences fewer than 8 hours of daylight per day at the height of winter.
“We now have new evidence that the weather, and in particular the temperature and amount of sunlight that we are exposed to, has a strong influence on how much alcohol we consume. Stricter laws on alcohol pricing are surely justified when we consider the devastating combined effect of low sunlight and cheaper alcohol on consumption”, he said.
Weather-related alcohol consumption is directly linked to the chances of developing the most dangerous form of liver disease, which can ultimately end in liver failure and death, said Dr McCann. The results of this study provide strong evidence for introducing extra safeguards around alcohol during the winter months, including restrictions on advertising alcohol products during the coldest and darkest months, he said.
Retailers and drinks producers are likely to be resistant to any suggestion of advertising bans in the winter months, specially over the lucrative Christmas and New Year periods.