It’s the end of the Christmas and New Year break and most of us head back to work or school, hence the Soul II Soul lyrics in the blog post title. And part of that reality is that women are closing the drinking gap on men as reported by the Institute of Alcohol Studies in October 2016. Over to their analysis:
Trend most evident among young adults, international analysis shows (25 October)
Women are catching up with men in terms of their alcohol consumption and its impact on their health, finds an analysis of the available international evidence, spanning over a century and published in the online journal BMJ Open.
This trend is most evident among young adults, the findings show. Historically, men have been far more likely than women to drink alcohol and to drink it in quantities that damage their health, with some figures suggesting up to a 12-fold difference between the sexes. But now evidence is beginning to emerge that suggests this gap is narrowing.
In a bid to quantify this trend over time, a research team pooled the data from 68 relevant international studies published between 1980 and 2014. The studies calculated male-to-female ratios for 3 broad categories of alcohol use and harms (any alcohol use, problematic alcohol use and alcohol-related harms) stratified by 5-year birth cohorts ranging from 1891 to 2001, generating 1,568 sex ratios (see above data table).
Sixteen of the studies spanned 20 or more years; five spanned 30 or more. All the studies included explicit regional or national comparisons of men’s and women’s drinking patterns across at least two time periods.
The pooled data showed that the gap between the sexes consistently narrowed across all three categories of any use, problematic use, and associated harms over time.
Men born between 1891 and 1910 were twice (2.2) as likely as their female peers to drink alcohol; but this had almost reached parity among those born between 1991 and 2000 (1.1, illustrated). The same patterns were evident for problematic use, where the gender gap fell from 3 to 1.2, and for associated harms, where the gender gap fell from 3.6 to 1.3.
After taking account of potential mathematical bias in the calculations, the gender gap fell by 3.2% with each successive five-year period of births, but was steepest among those born from 1966 onwards.
Associated health harms fall disproportionately on female drinkers
The calculation used was not designed to address whether alcohol use is falling among men or rising among women, the researchers caution.
But among the 42 studies that reported some evidence for a convergence of drinking levels between the sexes, most (n = 31) indicated that this was driven by greater use of alcohol among women, and 5% of the sex ratios were under 1, suggesting that women born after 1981 may actually be drinking more than their male peers, the researchers claimed.
The researchers wrote: “Findings confirm the closing male–female gap in indicators of alcohol use and related harms. The closing male–female gap is most evident among young adults, highlighting the importance of prospectively tracking young male and female cohorts as they age into their 30s, 40s and beyond.”
While they did not set out to explain the reasons behind their observed findings, they emphasised that their results “have implications for the framing and targeting of alcohol use prevention and intervention programmes.”
They concluded: “Alcohol use and alcohol use disorders have historically been viewed as a male phenomenon. The present study calls this assumption into question and suggests that young women in particular should be the target of concerted efforts to reduce the impact of substance use and related harms.
“These findings (also) highlight the importance of further tracking young male and female cohorts as they age into their 30s, 40s and beyond”, they added.
Institute of Alcohol Studies director Katherine Brown said: “The findings from this study illustrate a trend that has been in the making for decades. Women are increasingly subjected to heavily targeted marketing practices by alcohol companies enticing them to drink more. This is a global phenomenon, with drinks manufacturers producing sweet, often pink, fizzy alcoholic beverages that appeal to young women, with glamorous advertising campaigns.
“Another major driver of alcohol consumption is price, with very cheap products commonly on sale for as little as 16 pence per unit in shops and supermarkets. We are no longer a nation of pub goers, with two-thirds of all UK alcohol drunk at home. Pre-loading on cheap shop bought alcohol before a night out is common practice and police have reported strong links to crime, disorder and vulnerable behaviour in towns and city centres.
“Alcohol places a huge strain on our NHS and emergency services, with the total costs to society at £21 billion each year. We need to take this issue seriously and introduce evidence-based measures such as minimum unit pricing and marketing restrictions in order to protect out future generations and improve the health and wellbeing of our most vulnerable communities.”
Coverage from Alcohol Policy UK:
‘Women have caught up with men’ in alcohol consumption levels, headlines reported across the media. According to international research the gap between men and women is closing rapidly when it comes to use and alcohol-related harms, though in the UK men still drink more. See NHS behind the headlines analysis or BBC, The Sun and Guardian reports.
To act as a counter-balance to this view here is a recent article from the Guardian citing another BMJ study:
It’s worth a read and has an interesting conclusion that begs the question: who is funding this research?
Further evidential data:
Ladies it’s the beginning of January and it’s not too late to join us for Dry January. You can start the clock today and not become part of these statistics of the future.