Europeans ‘heaviest drinkers in world’, according to WHO

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The World Health Organisation has endorsed 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.

“The harmful use of alcohol is a priority public health concern. The evidence supporting this action plan is large, diverse and persuasive,” said WHO regional director for Europe, Zsuzsanna Jakab.

“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 early this month 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 2012 – 20202   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.

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;
  • a minimum purchase age;
  • lower legal blood alcohol levels for driving and random breath-testing; and
  • brief counselling programmes and treatment for alcohol use disorders.

While WHO 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.”

The five main objectives of the plan build on previous European plans, and align with the WHO global strategy on alcohol, to:

  • raise awareness of the magnitude and nature of the health, social and economic burdens due to alcohol;
  • strengthen and disseminate the knowledge base;
  • enhance capacity to manage and treat alcohol-related disorders;
  • increase mobilization of resources for concerted action; and improve surveillance and advocacy.