Alcohol problem taking thousands of UK lives, experts claim


The British government’s inability to address U.K.’s growing alcohol problem could to an increased death rate due to liver disease, according to health experts.

In a worst-case scenario, up to 250,000 lives could be lost in England and Wales alone due to alcohol over the next 20 years unless government imposes tougher restrictions, the experts wrote in a report in The Lancet medical journal.

They said that while France had been able to achieve “phenomenal success” in reducing death rates, partly by curbing availability of cheap alcohol, in the UK, alcohol industry and retailers “are reliant on people risking their health to provide profits.”

“How many more people have to die from alcohol-related conditions, and how many more families devastated by the consequences before the government takes the situation as seriously as it took the dangers of tobacco,” said Ian Gilmore, the former president of the Royal College of Physicians, who co-wrote the report with Nick Sheron of Southampton University and Chris Hawkey of Nottingham University.

“We already know from the international evidence that the main ways to reduce alcohol consumption are to increase the price and reduce the availability of alcohol, yet the government continues to discuss implementing marginal measures while ignoring this evidence,” he added.

The experts cited that Britain, The Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Australia, and New Zealand have shared similar cultures, genetic backgrounds and alcohol drinking patterns- and, until the mid-1980s, also had similar death rates from cases of liver damage.

They also pointed out that while liver death rates in most of these countries have remained low, the rate in Britain has more than doubled from around 4.9 per 100,000 people to 11.4 per 100,000 at present.

Using data from the Office of National Statistics for alcohol-related liver deaths in 2008 as the baseline, the medical experts mapped out a best-case scenario under which liver deaths would decline at the same gradient as in France, leading to 22,000 fewer such deaths in total in Britain by 2019.

In contract, the worst case results in 8,900 extra liver deaths by 2019.

“Over 20 years, the difference between the scenarios would be 77,000 liver deaths,” they said, adding that “80 percent of them would be in people aged under 65.”

Jon Mills

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