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Alcohol has a greater medical impact on low income communities

Alcohol has a greater medical impact on low income communities

Publication date: Thursday, 05 May 2016
Contributor(s): Jeremy Bray

A new survey shows that people in England who are heavier drinkers and live in low-income communities are more likely to combine their drinking with other health damaging behaviours than people in more affluent communities, multiplying the risks of ill health.

Researchers found that people living in deprived areas who drank at levels consistent with increased risks to health (Men >21 units per week; Women >14 units per week) were nearly 11 times more likely than people living in non-deprived areas to combine drinking with smoking, excess weight, poor diet and little exercise. In combination, these behaviours multiply the risk of alcohol-related conditions.

A telephone survey in England between May 2013 and April 2014 identified a cohort of 6015 randomly selected adults aged >18 years who provided information on their age, sex and ethnicity, as well as their current and past alcohol consumption and interactions with other health risk behaviours. Respondents were identified as living in non-deprived or deprived areas based on the IMD (Index of Multiple Deprivation) of the area they lived in.

Lead researcher Mark Bellis, said: “About 9% of increased risk drinkers surveyed in poorer communities also smoked, were overweight and had unhealthy lifestyles. Together these combinations can create enormous stresses on people’s bodies, overwhelming their ability to limit the health harms caused by alcohol. In affluent areas less than 1% of people drinking at increased risk levels also reported all three other health risks.”


This study suggests that health risks from alcohol are much greater when combined with smoking, poor diet and low levels of physical activity, providing further motivation for health care professionals to encourage patients, particularly in deprived areas, to focus on these issues.

Bellis M, Hughes K, Nicholls J et al. The alcohol harm paradox: using a national survey to explore how alcohol may disproportionately impact health in deprived individuals. BMC Public Health 2016;16:111 doi: 10.1186/s12889-016-2766-x

Topics covered:
Category: Evidence in Practice
Edition: Volume 4, Number 1, BJPCN Online 2016
Contributor(s): Jeremy Bray

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