An alcohol report that got little publicity

The World Health Organisation has just released its 2014 report on alcohol and health. It seems to have had almost no publicity here – possibly because it doesn’t support the claims of certain groups that NZ stats are really bad on a world scale. Some extracts you may not see elsewhere:

  • Far from there being a catastrophic rise in alcohol abuse in New Zealand there has been a real reduction in drinking habits in the last 30 years.   There was a sharp increase in total alcohol consumption per capita from 1970 through the early 1980s, then a sharp drop from 1985 through the late 1990s, and a slight upward trend since then.  So things are not worse than they have ever been…in fact they are a lot better.
  • The amount consumed per drinker, New Zealand ranks around 96th (13.7 litres of pure alcohol per capita).  This ranks us slightly higher than France (at 12.9 litres) and slightly lower than the UK (at 13.8 litres).  So on average, we are a nation of fairly moderate drinkers.
  • We are constantly told that we have a “binge drinking” culture in New Zealand, but our rates of prevalence of heavy episodic drinking (classified as more than 6 standard drinks on at least one occasion in the past 30 days) is actually very low by global standards.  The prevalence rate of heavy drinking for New Zealand was 5.6%.  This is more than half that of Australia (13.6%), more than a quarter that of Canada (23.1%), and more than a sixth that of the United Kingdom (33.4%). So when you hear the claim we have 800,000 hazardous drinkers, it is quite a gross exaggeration (as the scare mongers here use a different definition).

Of course there are problems caused by alcohol abuse in New Zealand, and these should be mitigated if it can be done in a way where the benefits exceed the costs. But the narrative that NZ has an awful drinking problem, and it is much worse than in the past – is not true.

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