75% of adult Australians adversely affected by someone else’s drinking.

A recent study published online by The Medical Journal of Australia has shown that the consumption of alcohol is on the rise and linked to alcohol related health harms (eg, liver cirrhosis, accidents and suicide) and social harms (eg, arrests for assault and public disorder).

The aim of the study was to estimate the national trend in per capita consumption (PCC) of alcohol by young Australians aged 15 years of age and over.

Using data obtained from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, catalogues and World Advertising Research Centre reports, researchers determined that the new and adjusted series of annual totals of PCC of alcohol showed a trend in increasing alcohol consumption.

Until recently, it was believed that alcohol consumption had remained stable since the early 1990’s. This report highlights the need for up to date data on alcohol sales and harms across Australia. The cost of alcohol-related harms to Australian society, including harms experienced by drinkers and “victims” of other peoples’ drinking is significant.

The report said that “Australian researchers have documented adverse health and social effects of the increased availability of alcohol arising from the liberalisation of state liquor licensing. Concern about rising alcohol-related hospitalisations, alcohol-related liver disease and increased social and economic costs prompted the national Preventative Health Taskforce to propose increased taxation and reduced promotion of alcohol products.”

Since the 1980s Australian wine production has flourished and in an effort to obtain a richer flavour, many winemakers have increased the amount of alcohol produced during fermentation. Up until now this has not been taken into account when estimating the PCC of alcohol consumed each year. However for the first time, the 2008-09 ABS estimates took into account increased alcohol content of wine over time.

The new adjusted mean alcohol content for all wines is now about 12.7%.

Previously alcohol content estimates for wines were:

  • table wine: red and white still wine combined (10.8%)
  • sparkling and carbonated 10.6%
  • fortified 17.9%

The new estimates are:

  • table wine: still red wine (13.4%) and white table wine (12.2%)
  • sparkling and carbonated 11.2%
  • fortified 17.9%

The report goes on to say that “Alcohol consumption in Australia is now at one of its highest points since 1991–92 and probably would have been higher if not for the impact of an increase in April 2008 of excise tax on ready-to-drink spirit-based products (“alcopops tax”).”

Researchers concluded that “it is essential that alcohol policy is informed by sound data on alcohol use and alcohol-related harm in the Australian population. The former should include both credible estimates of PCC of alcohol derived from alcohol sales data and well conducted population surveys of drinking patterns.”

The report also recommended that key actions to reduce the preventable harms from alcohol, as outlined in the National Preventative Health Strategy — the roadmap for action, be adopted.

Rob Moodie Chairman of National Preventative Health Taskforce: the healthiest country by 2020 wrote “The National Preventative Health Taskforce was established in April 2008 and given the challenge to develop the National Preventative Health Strategy, focusing initially on obesity, tobacco and excessive consumption of alcohol. The Strategy is directed at primary prevention, and addresses all relevant arms of policy and all available points of leverage, in both the health and non-health sectors.”

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha

Source: The Medical Journal of Australia