Drinking alcoholic beverages is linked to some 2.8 million deaths each year, according to researchers who concluded that there is no safe level of alcohol use.
The chemical in beer, wine and hard liquor is associated with nearly one in 10 deaths in people ages 15 to 49 around the world, making it the leading risk factor for people in that age range, according to an analysis of earlier studies, published in the Lancet medical journal.
The combined health risks associated with alcohol outweigh any possible benefits, said the University of Washington’s Max Griswold, an author of the analysis, in a statement. Although the study found that alcohol offered some protection against coronary-artery disease in women, “the strong association between alcohol consumption and the risk of cancer, injuries and infectious diseases” offset that.
“The conclusions of the study are clear and unambiguous: alcohol is a colossal global health issue,” said Robyn Burton of King’s College London, another author. “The solutions are straightforward: Increasing taxation creates income for hard-pressed health ministries, and reducing the exposure of children to alcohol marketing has no downsides.”
The article is the latest salvo to hit alcoholic-beverage companies in a long-running debate over the safety of their products. In April, another large analysis of earlier studies, also published in the Lancet, found some reduction in heart attacks among drinkers but concluded that alcohol use increased the risk of premature death from several other ailments.
The world’s largest liquor producers, such as Smirnoff vodka owner Diageo Plc and Chivas Regal whisky maker Pernod Ricard SA, have long promoted moderation to address health concerns. They’ve adopted a drink-less-but-better mantra that seeks to appease critics while boosting the bottom line by selling more expensive products. Diageo has also acquired a minority stake in Seedlip, an alcohol-free drink that aims to deliver the depth of flavor and mouthfeel of a high-end spirit.
The main causes of alcohol-related deaths in the 15-to-49 age group were tuberculosis, road injuries and self-harm, the study found. For those older than 50, the leading alcohol-related cause of death was cancer.
The authors took data from nearly 700 previous studies to estimate the prevalence of alcohol in different countries, finding that the biggest drinkers were in European countries. The average Romanian man drank the equivalent of 8.2 bottles of beer a day in 2016, the most in the world. The countries that drink the least alcohol have mostly Muslim populations.