A new report from the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) calls for action to address health inequalities as a key issue for alcohol policy. In particular it addresses the issue of the 'alcohol harm paradox' - why lower socioeconomic groups experience greater health problems due to alcohol, despite drinking less than those on higher incomes.
Download ‘Alcohol, health inequalities and the harm paradox’ [pdf], the summary report [pdf] or an audio podcast featuring Sir Michael Marmot.
The research suggests that multiple factors may explain why the worst health problems – such as obesity, social disorder and mortality rates – occur among the most deprived socioeconomic groups, and that alcohol’s interaction with other unhealthy behaviours is known to compound these health problems. For example, studies have discovered a “supra-additive interaction” between obesity and alcohol consumption. A combination of smoking and drinking also significantly accelerates the risk of cancer, with tobacco and alcohol-related cancers 2 to 3 times more common in areas with the highest deprivation versus the lowest.
The report also suggests alcohol may be a contributing factor for almost 50% of the indicators within the Public Health Outcomes Framework for England. As such addressing alcohol-related harm could be a key route to improving public health and reducing general health inequalities.
Commenting on the report, Professor Sir Michael Marmot, Director of the Institute of Health Equity at University College London, said:
"It's a mixture of alcohol and other things that make individuals and groups more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol… given that people of low socioeconomic position are vulnerable to a whole range of different disorders, the report suggests that alcohol interacts with this vulnerability.”
Katherine Brown, Director of IAS, said:
“Health inequalities are a major cause for concern in the UK and this report shows how alcohol misuse is effectively widening the gap between rich and poor. This is why policies such as minimum unit pricing are vitally important because the biggest beneficiaries are low income and vulnerable groups.”
In 2012 the King's Fund published research on the clustering of lifestyle behaviours, which explored the inter-linked relationships of smoking, drinking, diet and exercise across the population. An Alcohol Research UK flagship grant into the alcohol harm paradox is also currently being undertaken by the Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University.