Healthy living

More than 200,000 deaths from alcohol predicted

More than 200,000 deaths from alcohol predicted Doctors call for stricter regulation

More than 200,000 people could die early from alcohol-related causes in the next 20 years, doctors have warned. 

Writing in today's Lancet journal, experts in alcohol-related disease predicted there will be up to 210,000 avoidable alcohol-related deaths in England and Wales in the next two decades if current trends continue.

Some 70,000 deaths will be caused by liver disease and the rest from accidents, violence and chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and cancers of the breast and gastrointestinal tract.

The analysis comes from alcohol policy expert Professor Ian Gilmore, who is also a former President of the Royal College of Physicians, Dr Nick Sheron, from the National Institute of Biomedical Research and members of the British Society of Gastroenterology.

The latest projection is a slight improvement on last year's prediction of 250,000 avoidable alcohol-related deaths, but the authors say the small change was "hardly cause for celebration."

"Unfortunately, the recent moderate improvement might be related more to the recession than to current alcohol policy; the fact that deaths increased during 2009–10 indicates there is no room for complacency."

They continued: "It remains entirely within the power of the UK Government to prevent the worst-case scenario of avoidable deaths. Although alcohol-related disease may take years to develop, fatalities generally reflect recent drinking."

The authors highlighted the government's alcohol policy and the "responsibility deal" where the alcohol industry has pledged to promote safe drinking and clear labelling, saying there was a conflict of interest.

"The first priority of all these companies, is to maximise profits for shareholders," the authors said.

"By contrast, the Scottish Government is pressing ahead with a raft of evidence-based measures to reduce alcohol consumption, such as banning special offers based on bulk purchase and instituting a minimum price-per-unit of alcohol."

They added that the UK was at a "potential tipping point" in taking on "the shameful, preventable loss of life caused by alcohol."

Alcohol is now a factor in nearly 27 per cent of deaths in men aged 16 to 24 years, and the peak age for alcohol-related deaths is in people aged between 45 to 65.

The authors concluded: "There are understandable concerns over the legal status of a minimum price per unit of alcohol and whether the general public is ready for tough action on the widespread availability of cheap alcoholic drinks.

"Can the UK Government, however, afford to duck effective action on alcohol that will have such a positive impact on crime and disorder, work productivity, and health?

"The UK Government will have to withstand powerful lobbying from the drinks industry, but the prize of reversing this tragic toll of alcohol-related deaths is there for the taking."

Public Health Minister Anne Milton said: "As the Prime Minister said earlier this week, we are determined to tackle the scandal of alcohol abuse.

"It costs the NHS £2.7 billion per year and in our forthcoming alcohol strategy we will set out our plans on how to deal with the wide range of problems and harms it causes."

Alcohol Concern chief executive Eric Appleby said: "What we have to accept is that doing nothing is no longer a responsible option for alcohol policy, and that trying to 'nudge' drinking culture through information and persuasion has proved little better than doing nothing."

Henry Ashworth, chief executive of the Portman Group, which represents the UK drinks producers industry, said: "It is really important that we put this report in context. The vast majority of people drink responsibly.

"We agree with the Prime Minister that strong partnerships are essential to tackle the minority who use alcohol recklessly and drinks producers are committed to supporting this approach."

This article was published on Mon 20 February 2012

Image © Yurok Aleksandrovich -

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