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Booze is hazardous to SA's people

Alcohol abuse is one of the biggest killers of South Africans, causing 7% of all deaths and disabilities in a year.
Booze is hazardous to SA's peopleRanked as the third-biggest cause of falling life expectancy - after sexually transmitted diseases (31.5%) and interpersonal violence (9.1%) - South Africans' drinking habits are a huge health concern.

Drinking costs the country R38bn a year in alcohol-related violence, injuries, deaths, disease, losses to the economy, lost productivity and law enforcement.

Professor Charles Parry, acting vice-president of the Medical Research Council, said at a health symposium at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, that studies had shown that alcohol was a contributing factor in female breast cancer, other cancers, Type II diabetes, cirrhosis, epilepsy and high blood pressure, among other conditions.

"One has a 50% greater chance of [getting] breast cancer if you take four or more drinks a day," he said. "Even one drink a day can increase your risk of breast cancer by 20% compared with non-drinkers."

The extent of the pathologies caused by alcohol seems to be behind the push to ban alcohol advertising, reduce hours of alcohol selling and raising the drinking age.

Consumption levels


Parry said that according to the World Health Organisation, a 10% reduction in alcohol consumption would confer a significant reduction of premature mortality and disability.

But he cautioned: "I think the government would be crazy to do all these [alcohol restrictions] at once. It has to do a job, selling policy changes better than it does. Perhaps increasing the drinking age to 19 instead of the proposed 21 would work because that is when most people finish school."

According to the WHO profile of this country's drinking habits, South Africans over the age of 15 consume the equivalent of an average of 9.5 litres of pure alcohol a year, compared with the average 6.2 litres in Africa.

"This is among the highest rates in the world," said Parry. "Many South Africans don't drink but those who do drink are at a problematic level."

Binge-drinking by adolescents increased dramatically between 2002 and 2008, with more than 35% of males between the ages of 16 and 19 admitting in 2008 to having binged on alcohol in the preceding month, compared with only 20% of boys in 2002.

About 25% of girls between the ages of 16 and 18 said they had binged on alcohol in the preceding month in 2008, whereas in 2002 less than 20% had done so.

"The [binge-drinking] situation appears to be getting worse," said Parry.

A survey of the drinking habits of teenagers was completed in 2012 and the figures are expected to be released soon. Parry believes they will confirm high levels of problem drinking.

Source: The Times via I-Net Bridge


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