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OECD Health at a Glance 2017 report's alcohol findings

The OECD Health at a Glance reports provide a comparative study of OECD countries’ health status and health system performance.

Published annually, the report compiles official national statistics unless otherwise indicated. Below is a summary of the report’s section on alcohol consumption.

This report affirms that harmful alcohol use remains a leading cause of death and disability worldwide, specifically for those of working age. Across the 32 OECD countries, alcohol use ranks among the top ten leading risk factors in terms of years of healthy life lost. Moreover, alcohol consumption in OECD countries is well above the global average. Ranging from cancers to heart diseases, liver diseases and others, alcohol use led to 2.3 million deaths in 2015.

The report detailed differing levels of alcohol within populations, noting that most alcohol is drunk by the heaviest-drinking fifth of the population. In turn, heavy drinking is linked to absenteeism, and reduced employability, productivity and wages.

Regarding total alcohol consumption by country, the report charts a reduction of 9.5 litres per capita in 2000, to 9 litres per capita today. This aggregate reduction of alcohol consumption was not uniform across the 32 OECD countries, with consumption rising in 13 of them – as well as in applicant country Lithuania. European countries in which alcohol consumption increased include Norway, Slovenia and Sweden (all by 0.1 litres up to 1 litre per capita) and Belgium, Iceland, Latvia, Poland and Lithuania (all by 1.1 litres up to 5.3 litres per capita). The most significant reductions in alcohol consumption (by more than 2 litres per capita) were in Denmark, Ireland, Italy and the Netherlands.

The report noted the gendered nature of harmful drinking, with men exhibiting higher rates in nearly all countries. Across the OECD, the report found that that 12% of women and 30% of men binge-drink on a regular basis. The gender gaps were smallest in Greece and Spain, and largest in Estonia, Finland and Latvia.

The report detailed the variety of existing policies addressing harmful use of alcohol, and noted that taxes, fiscal policies, regulations and enforcement all vary from country to country.

The report concludes by recommending comprehensive policy packages which include fiscal measures and regulation, as well as some less stringent policies (eg. workplace interventions) as those most effective at reducing harmful use of alcohol.

The report in full is available below:

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