Alcohol causes more than one in 20 deaths of New Zealanders aged under 80, a recent report says.
Professor Ian Shaw
But UC’s Professor Ian Shaw says drinking alcohol needs to be put in perspective.
“Driving kills and injures many people each year, but we don’t advocate stopping driving. Perspective is the key issue. Also, there is evidence of benefits of moderate alcohol consumption which should also be taken into account.
“Both risk and benefit should be balanced to draw sensible conclusions. Another benefit is enjoyment – this should not be discounted either.
“The mechanism of carcinogenicity of alcohol is unknown, if indeed it is carcinogenic. From the study which resulted in the recent report it is not clear if a particular type of alcohol such as wine or beer is associated with particular health outcomes such as cancer.
“Before we act on the results it might be that alcohol is not the culprit or that just one form of alcohol skews the results.’’
Alcohol consumption is estimated to cause 6.1 per cent of all male deaths under 80 and 4.3 per cent of all female deaths – in total, 800 deaths a year are attributable to drinking. The death rate for Maori is 2.5 times that of non-Maori.
Although most harm to young people’s health from drinking is through injury, alcohol also contributes to chronic diseases and breast cancer is the leading cause of death from alcohol in both Maori and non-Maori women overall.
A 2010 report by the Law Commission found the unbridled commercialisation of alcohol as a commodity in the past 20 years had made our drinking problem worse.
“Even though I would not want moderate drinkers having a glass of wine with dinner to change their behaviour and enjoyment based on the findings, I would want excessive drinkers to listen and act now.
“We should focus on high alcohol consumers. Sadly, it is likely to be the moderate consumers that this report worries rather than the heavy consumers,” Professor Shaw says.
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