People living in colder regions drink more alcohol, study finds

Scientists call for tighter restrictions on alcohol adverts and prices during winter months

Peter Stubley
Monday 19 November 2018 01:11 GMT
Experts calls for minimum pricing and restrictions on alcohol sales

People living in colder regions with less sunlight are more likely to be heavy drinkers, according to a new study.

Researchers found a link between the weather and alcohol consumption and liver disease when examining data from 193 countries.

“It’s something that everyone has assumed for decades,” said lead author Ramon Bataller, associate director of the Pittsburgh Liver Research Centre. “Why do people in Russia drink so much? Why in Wisconsin? Everybody assumes that’s because it’s cold.

“But we could not find a single paper linking climate to alcoholic intake or alcoholic cirrhosis. This is the first study that systematically demonstrates that worldwide and in America, in colder areas and areas with less sun, you have more drinking and more alcoholic cirrhosis.”

Drinking is known to increase feelings of warmth because alcohol increases the flow of blood to the skin. It is also linked to depression, which tends to be more prevalent where there is less daylight.

The study, published online in Hepatology, found a negative correlation between climate and alcohol consumption in data from from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Meteorological Organisation.

As average temperature and hours of sunlight decreased, the total alcohol intake per person, the percentage of the population that drinks alcohol, and the incidence of binge drinking all increased.

Scientists said the findings justified stricter laws on alcohol pricing and advertising during the winter months.

Dr Peter McCann, medical adviser to Castle Craig Hospital, a residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinic in the Scottish Borders, said: “This weather-related alcohol consumption is directly linked to our chances of developing the most dangerous form of liver disease – cirrhosis – which can ultimately end in liver failure and death.

“Stricter laws on alcohol pricing are surely justified when we consider the devastating combined effect of low sunlight and cheaper alcohol on consumption.

“Advertising laws should be addressed with restrictions during winter months strongly considered.”

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Scotland became the first country in the world to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol earlier this year in a bid to tackle problem drinking. Similar proposals are expected to come into force in Wales in summer 2019 and the issue remains under review in the UK.

Roughly 4 per cent of the UK population – around two million people – account for a third of all alcohol consumption.

There were 5,507 deaths attributable to alcohol and 337,000 hospital admissions due to alcohol-related diseases or injuries in the year 2016-17. There were also 240 road deaths in Britain where one or both drivers were over the drink drive limit, accounting for 13 per cent of all road deaths, according to the Office for National Statistics

The WHO is due to present new data on alcohol consumption in Europe at a summit in Edinburgh on Monday.

It says levels remain high and that almost half of the adult male population are at risk of both short and long-term health and social problems due to harmful drinking patterns.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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