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Written question on research on Health and alcohol (Catherine Stihler (S&D))

19 August 2010. Can the Commission update Parliament on research into health, with particular reference to alcohol abuse in the EU?

E-6610/10EN Answer given by Mr Dalli on behalf of the Commission

15 September 2010. The European Union is the heaviest drinking region of the world. When launching the first EU Alcohol Strategy in 2006, the Commission pointed out that harmful and hazardous alcohol consumption is the cause of more than 7% of all ill-health and early death in the EU.[1]

How much people drink, how they drink impact substantially on people's health..[2] It has been estimated that in the EU, 15% of adults drink above the levels considered low-risk (maximum 20g pure alcohol per day for women, and 40g for men).3

Drinking patterns that lead to drunkenness are associated with accidents, injuries and violence. Young people are particularly at risk, with 25% of deaths in young men between 15 and 29 years being due to alcohol abuse[3]

Among older age groups, hazardous alcohol consumption, along with smoking, unhealthy eating habits and lack of physical activity, is known to increase the risk of chronic illnesses.[4] Drinking patterns involving frequent and heavy alcohol consumption are associated for example with liver cirrhosis, cardiovascular diseases and depression.

Harmful effects of alcohol tend to be greater among the less advantaged, contributing to inequalities in health within and between EU Member States. There is a 4-year gap in life expectancy in working age men between most new Member States (EU10) and the "older" Member States (EU15). It is estimated that in 2002, alcohol accounted for 25% of this gap, that is, one full year.[5]

According to theWorld Health Organisation (WHO) , alcohol consumption has remained stable in most EU Member States between 2002 and 2006. An upward trend was, however, evident in eight countries and a downward trend in just two. The long-term drop in alcohol consumption in Mediterranean countries (France, Italy and Spain) seems to have levelled off.[6]

A Eurobarometer survey in 2009 showed no significant change from 2006 in drinking habits at EU level.[7] . The ESPAD study which monitors alcohol consumption among 15-16-year old, shows that in many countries across Europe binge drinking (5 drinks or more on one occasion) has become more common among the young since the turn of the millenium.[8]

The Commission is currently updating the situation across the EU as regards alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harm. [9] The results will be available by the end of the current Alcohol Strategy period in 2012.