Alcohol is the cause of more than one in 20 deaths of New
Zealanders aged under 80 and a major cause of breast cancer,
University of Otago research has found.
The study highlighted the ''lesser known'' health effects of
alcohol, such as its carcinogenic properties, with breast
cancer the leading cause of death from alcohol among women.
The report, by Prof Jennie Connor and Robyn Kydd from the
university's department of preventive and social medicine in
Dunedin, called ''Alcohol-attributable burden of disease and
injury in New Zealand: 2004 and 2007'', found alcohol was the
cause of about 800 deaths a year in people under 80.
''This study demonstrates that alcohol consumption is one of
the most important risk factors for avoidable mortality and
disease in early and middle adulthood, and contributes
substantially to loss of good health across the life
course,'' Prof Connor said.
The leading cause of alcohol-related deaths overall was
injuries (43%), followed by cancer (30.3%), which included
breast and bowel cancer.
Split into more specific categories, the leading cause of
alcohol deaths for men was road traffic injuries (19.6%), and
for women, breast cancer (26.9%).
The report highlighted alcohol's toxic and carcinogenic
properties, which many people were not aware of. A message
women could take from the report was that reducing alcohol
consumption was one of the few known ways to lower the risks
of getting breast cancer.
''Every additional drink per day increases your risk by 10%.
It's pretty easy to remember, and it's quite a substantial
reduction if you reduce your drinking by a drink a day,''
Prof Connor said.
On an individual level, people should cut down on their
alcohol consumption, but in the end the Government needed to
step in with more regulation.
''You could try and convince people to do that, one person at
a time, but that's not going to work. We need to change the
way that alcohol is regulated so that consumption goes down.
''All of this is preventable, and without saying nobody
should ever drink alcohol again, we can choose how much we
want to reduce it.''
Regulation could include increasing the price of alcohol and
lowering the drink-driving level.
The report also found that alcohol-related harm was worse
among men than women, with the number of alcohol-related
deaths for men (537) double the number of deaths among women
(265) in 2007. The alcohol death rate for Maori was two and
a-half times that of non-Maori.
''In addition to the wide range of physical health conditions
included in this study, we need to remember that there are
many effects of heavy drinking on communities that are not
able to be reflected in studies such as this,'' Prof Connor
The report, commissioned by the Alcohol Advisory Council and
made with the help of a World Health Organisation group in
Toronto, was published yesterday by the Health Promotion