Europeans 'heaviest drinkers in world'


The World Health Organisation have announced an "action plan to reduce the harmful use of alcohol" in Europe, which they say is the heaviest drinking region in the world.

Some 20 per cent of adults in Europe showed a prevalence of heavy episodic drinking, according to the organisation.

In a statement released today, they also said that alcohol was the second largest risk factor for the death and disease burden in the region, just after tobacco use.

"The harmful use of alcohol is a priority public health concern. The evidence supporting this action plan is large, diverse and persuasive," said Zsuzsanna Jakab, the organisation's regional director for Europe.

"Countries are well aware of the expensive and devastating damage it causes and our action plan is intended to provide them with technical guidance and support on what can and should be done to reduce this harm."

The announcement was made earlier today in Baku, Azerbaijan, at a meeting of the 53 countries in the organisation's European region.

The European action plan to reduce the harmful use of alcohol over the next eight years  gives an overview of the problem and provides policy options which the organisation say are proven to reduce alcohol-related harm.

These policies include regulating alcohol pricing, targeting drink-driving, and restricting alcohol marketing.

Alcohol consumption reportedly decreased during the 1990s, then increased and stabilized at a higher level between 2004 and 2006.

Consumption levels vary greatly among countries, with a European average of 9.24 litres of pure alcohol equivalent consumed per person per year. In the organisation's European Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2010, Ireland's average consumption was 14.4 litres.

The overall tendency in official figures from the organisation is that consumption has decreased in western Europe and increased in eastern Europe during the last 15 years, although there are huge differences among countries.

The organisation said that the health sector would have a central role in recognizing and responding to alcohol problems, but that the issue had gone beyond just the health sector.

They maintained that there was convincing evidence on the efficacy of alcohol taxes, restrictions on outlet density and on days and hours of sale as well as lower legal blood alcohol levels for driving, random breath-testing and brief counselling programmes and treatment for alcohol use disorders.

While they praised Europe's role as a world leader in confronting alcohol issues, the organisation's statement said that more work was needed.

"Today, every European country has some form of alcohol action plan or strategy. Nevertheless, no matter how comprehensive or strict its alcohol action plan, every country will benefit from reviewing, adjusting and strengthening it, using the European action plan to reduce the harmful use of alcohol 2012-2020."