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PAHO/WHO issues warning as study shows high rates of harmful alcohol consumption in Caribbean

drinking-2-muchWASHINGTON, United States, Wednesday July 22, 2015 – Three CARICOM nations have been identified as having the highest rates of harmful alcohol consumption in the Americas, and the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) is recommending that countries limit availability, restrict marketing and increase taxes on alcohol.

Releasing its first Regional Status Report on Alcohol and Health in the Americas this week, PAHO/WHO warned that harmful use of alcohol increased in the Americas over a five-year period.

The PAHO/WHO study found that Paraguay, St. Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, Venezuela, and Trinidad and Tobago had the highest rates of harmful alcohol consumption in the Americas in that 2005-2010 period.

“The region has been paying a high cost in terms of health, financial resources, and productivity, and these costs will continue to increase if effective measures are not immediately adopted to help promote, protect, and improve the health and well-being of people over commercial interests,” said Anselm Hennis, director of PAHO/WHO’s Department of Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health.

Recommended measures include: increased taxes on alcohol; minimum age requirements for the purchase, sale, and consumption of alcoholic beverages; restrictions on where and when alcoholic beverages may be sold; and comprehensive regulation of alcohol marketing.

About one in five (22 per cent) current drinkers in the region engages in heavy episodic drinking, notably higher than the global average of 16 per cent.

The percentage of men who engage in binge drinking (four or five alcoholic drinks on one occasion at least once a month) rose from nearly 18 per cent to 30 per cent, while the percentage among women increased from 4.6 per cent to 13 per cent.

Adding to the problem, the PAHO/WHO said, is the fact that the region has on average the second-highest per capita consumption of all WHO regions, after Europe. An estimated six per cent of the region’s population suffers from an alcohol use disorder.

“The increase in problem drinking can be attributed to the high availability of alcohol in our region’s countries, low prices, and extensive promotion and advertising of alcoholic beverages,” said Maristela Monteiro, PAHO/WHO senior advisor on alcohol and substance abuse. “Any consumption of alcohol involves a health risk.”

In the Americas, alcohol was a contributing factor in the deaths of an estimated 300,000 people in 2012, and over 80,000 of these people would not have died if alcohol had not played a role, PAHO/WHO pointed out. Alcohol use contributes to over 200 diseases and injuries, including cirrhosis of the liver and some types of cancer.

In the Americas, people consume an average of 8.4 litres of pure alcohol a year – 2.5 litres less than in Europe but 2.2 litres higher than the world average.

The region also has the highest proportion of individuals who have consumed alcohol at least once in their life – over 81 per cent of people over age 15.

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CMLF News Issue #7
27th January 2016