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Strategies are needed to curb alcohol abuse, particularly in low-income countries, the Canadian researchers said in the study published Sept. 16 in The Lancet.
"Our data support the call to increase global awareness of the importance of harmful use of alcohol and the need to further identify and target the modifiable determinants of harmful alcohol use," study author Dr. Andrew Smyth, of the Population Health Research Institute at McMaster University in Ontario, said in a journal news release.
Previous studies on alcohol use were conducted primarily in high-income countries, the researchers pointed out. This time, the investigators analyzed the link between alcohol intake and health outcomes in 12 countries with different economic levels.
The high-income countries included Sweden and Canada. The upper middle-income countries included in the study were Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Poland, South Africa and Turkey. The lower middle-income countries were China and Colombia, and the low-income countries represented in the study were India and Zimbabwe.
Overall, the study involved almost 115,000 adults aged 35 to 70. Of these participants, 11 percent were from high-income countries, 21 percent were from an upper middle-income country, 43 percent were from a lower middle-income country and 25 percent were from a low-income country.
Current drinking was reported by 31 percent of the participants during a median follow-up period of slightly more than four years.
The study found that current drinking was associated with a 24 percent drop in the risk for heart attack, but there was no decline in the risk of death or stroke. Current drinkers also had a 51 percent greater risk for alcohol-related cancers, such as cancer of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, liver, breast, ovary, and head and neck. Moreover, drinkers had a 29 percent greater risk for injury, the findings showed.
However, the researchers pointed out that the risk for a combination of outcomes -- including death, heart disease, stroke, cancer and injury -- fell 16 percent among current drinkers from high-income and upper middle-income countries. But in lower middle-income and low-income countries, that combined risk increased 38 percent.
According to the authors of an accompanying commentary, Dr. Jason Connor and Wayne Hall of the Center for Youth Substance Abuse Research at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, "More than sufficient evidence is available for governments to give increased public health priority to reducing alcohol-related disease burden in low-income and middle-income countries."