No amount of alcohol is healthy, global study says

Well, this is a depressing report to have to swallow. Cheers?

Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
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Gael Cooper
3 min read

This study might give drinkers something to whine about.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Don't drink to this. A new global study concludes no amount of alcohol is healthy to consume.

The report, published Thursday in medical journal The Lancet, analyzed global alcohol consumption and disease risk using data for 195 international locations from 1990 to 2016. 

And it's not cheery news for those of us who've been telling ourselves things like "red wine is good for your heart," or "hard cider has health benefits."

To stay healthy, the best decision is to not drink alcohol at all, the survey concludes.

"Although the health risks associated with alcohol start off being small with one drink a day, they then rise rapidly as people drink more," said study leader Max Griswold of the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. "Previous studies have found a protective effect of alcohol on some conditions, but we found that the combined health risks associated with alcohol increase with any amount of alcohol."

Protective effects were found for ischaemic heart disease and diabetes in women, but weren't enough to overrule the overall health risk of alcohol. Even small amounts, such as a drink or two per day, were found to contribute to health problems.

Among the many findings, the research showed that drinking alcohol was the seventh leading risk factor for premature death and disease in 2016. That year, alcohol was the leading risk factor in people aged 15 to 49, with 3.8 percent of deaths in women and 12.2 percent of deaths in men connected to alcohol. 

In this age group, the leading causes of alcohol-related deaths included tuberculosis, road injuries and self-harm. In people age 50 and older, cancers were a leading cause of alcohol-related death, accounting for about 27 percent of deaths in women and 19 percent of deaths in men.

"The conclusions of the study are clear and unambiguous," the study reports. "Alcohol is a colossal global health issue and small reductions in health-related harms at low levels of alcohol intake are outweighed by the increased risk of other health-related harms, including cancer." 

But what about those earlier studies that say moderate drinking is good for you?

The researchers note that previous studies looking at the health benefits of alcohol have numerous limitations. They're often self-reported, which relies on people recalling their drinking habits, which is subject to human error; or based on alcohol sales data, which doesn't always provide an accurate picture of people's individual consumption levels. Additionally, certain studies may not take into account that some non-drinkers may avoid alcohol because they already have health issues. Some studies also overlook illicit trade and home brewing.

A grim statistic in the article reports that alcohol kills 2.8 million people annually worldwide. That includes alcohol-caused car accidents and an increased risk of cancer and infectious disease.

The study was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and pulled together data from the 2016 Global Burden of Disease report

CNET sister site CBS News contributed to this report.

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