Trade hits out at ‘questionable’ Lancet alcohol research

Representatives of the global drinks trade have accused a new alcohol consumption study of using a “questionable” forecasting model and producing results that contradict WHO findings.

Earlier this week, medical journal The Lancet published a study that forecast per capita alcohol consumption across the globe to grow by 17.8% to 7.6 litres between 2018 and 2030.

The report assessed alcohol intake in 189 countries between 1990 and 2017 and made projections to 2030. Authors claimed that while alcohol intake in some markets is dropping, low- and middle-income countries are consuming more alcohol as they become wealthier.

As such, the researchers claimed the World Health Organization’s (WHO) aim of reducing the harmful use of alcohol by 10% by 2025 “will not be reached globally”, and recommended a number of global measures including tax hikes, restricted availability of alcohol and a ban on alcohol marketing and advertising.

While the study forecast that the volume of consumed alcohol will “grow faster” than the number of drinkers, drinks industry representatives said evidence shows binge drinking is in decline around the world. Some also noted that the study contradicts research of WHO, which funded the report and previously highlighted a reduction in binge drinking.

A spokesperson for the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking said: “The WHO’s most recent report on alcohol and health shows notable and global reductions in alcohol related deaths, disability and binge drinking between 2010 and 2016.

“The 10-year projections modelled in this study should be interpreted with caution as much of the accuracy depends on economic growth projections.

“The leading beer, wine and spirits producers are determined to continue to work with others to combat harmful drinking at local, national and global levels.”

The Alcohol Information Partnership – an independent non-profit organisation funded by the eight biggest spirits companies, including Diageo and Pernod Ricard – highlighted diminishing drinking levels in the UK.

“Drinking levels in the UK have been falling for more than a decade with more people now drinking responsibly than harmfully,” a spokesperson said. “This fall reflects our changing relationship with alcohol with the old negative stereotypes are increasingly a thing of the past.”

Contradictory evidence

Likewise, trade body Spirits Europe said The Lancet report contracted existing evidence of lower drinking rates, previously backed up by WHO.

“More and more people are drinking responsibly across the world. The World Health Organization’s own evidence shows it,” said Ulrich Adam, director general of Spirits Europe.

“This study is only a projection while the WHO’s own evidence shows that binge drinking is down across the globe. We’re committed to combating harmful drinking and the results are there: already a reduction of up to 13% in binge drinking as the WHO reports.”

According to the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI), the consumption data for Ireland cited in the report is “incorrect”, with Central Statistics Office and Revenue Commissioners’ figures showing a marginal increase of 0.1% from 2017-18.

“[The] longer-term trend shows that since 2001, the average per adult alcohol consumption has fallen by 23.3% in Ireland,” noted Patricia Callan, director of the ABFI, who also said WHO data shows a drop in underage drinking in Ireland.

In the US, the Distilled Spirits Council said the forecast was based on a “questionable model that does not accurately reflect the long-term global reductions in alcohol abuse”.

A spokesperson for the trade association also stressed that global moves such as bans on alcohol marketing and tax hikes “will exacerbate dangerous illicit alcohol consumption”, and called for a “country-by-country” approach to tackling harmful drinking.

“As the study notes, there are ‘clear regional differences’ in alcohol consumption. In the United States, alcohol use disorders are at historic lows according to government data,” they said.

“Rather than pursuing a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, a more effective approach is to address issues surrounding alcohol abuse country by country, taking into account the culture, individual alcohol consumption patterns and the marketplace.”

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Author: Amy Hopkins {authorlink}