Wine, beer or spirits? Europeans cannot abandon their traditional drinking habits

Whether it’s the French love of wine, the German penchant for beer or a shot of spirits in the Baltics, European countries seem unable to abandon their traditional drinking habits, researchers have found.

A study of drinking patterns across Europe from 2000 to 2019 found little evidence that countries will change their preferred type of alcoholic drink, the prevalence of alcohol consumption or drinking behaviors such as binge drinking.

“This shows that cultural factors such as traditional drink preferences, social norms around drinking and historical consumption patterns contribute significantly to the stability of drinking patterns,” said Daniela Correia, lead author of the study from the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office. for Europe.

“For example, wine has been a staple product in the Mediterranean countries for centuries, while beer has deep roots in Central European countries,” she says.

Correia and colleagues write in the journal Addiction how they looked at drinking patterns in EU countries, as well as in Iceland, Norway and Ukraine, for 2000, 2010, 2015 and 2019.

The team used data from the WHO’s Global Monitoring System on Alcohol and Health, which is based on figures from official documents on sales, taxes and production and other factors, along with country-level surveys. The researchers also looked at measures of alcohol-related harm.

The analysis identified six clusters of alcohol consumption patterns in Europe in 2019. One of these was wine drinking and included countries such as France, Greece and Sweden, while another cluster was formed by countries with high beer consumption and relatively low spirits consumption. and the highest consumption by tourists, including Austria, Denmark and Germany.

Croatia, Hungary and Slovakia were among the countries in a cluster with the highest beer consumption, high prevalence of binge drinking and high consumption of spirits, while Ukraine, Bulgaria and Cyprus formed a cluster defined by the highest prevalence of alcoholic beverage non-drinkers, but high and regular consumption of spirits.

A cluster consisting of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had high liquor and beer consumption but low binge drinking, while the latter cluster was defined as the country with the highest prevalence of drinkers and binge drinking and included Finland, Iceland, Ireland and Malta among its numbers . .

Although Britain was not included in the analysis, Dr Jürgen Rehm – co-author of the study at the University of Toronto – said data suggests it would fall into the same cluster as Germany.

When the team analyzed drinking patterns for 2000, 2010 and 2015, they found the same six clusters, although another cluster was found in 2000 that represented countries with low overall alcohol consumption, such as Greece, Norway, Slovenia and Sweden. .

The team adds that 20 of the 30 countries remained in the same cluster throughout the study period, and most of the countries that switched were part of the low alcohol consumption cluster that subsequently disappeared.

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The team says wine-drinking countries had the lowest rates of alcohol-related deaths and years of healthy life lost in 2019. However, the Baltic cluster with high alcohol consumption had the highest rates: there were 90 more alcohol-related deaths per 100,000 people than wine-drinking countries.

Rehm said the results contrast with some research suggesting changes in drinking behavior in individual countries. “We were quite surprised that de facto not much changed,” he said.

Rehm said the study has important implications. “Alcohol is part of the fabric of European life and it will continue to exist. And there’s nothing bad about that. It’s just part of our culture, and cultures don’t change that quickly,” he said.

But, Rehm added, it is important that drinking is reduced to reduce the number of alcohol-related illnesses, injuries and deaths.

“We could have a life expectancy of two and a half (or) three years longer, if so many people (died) from alcohol-related deaths,” Rehm said.

“From a public health perspective, we would like less alcohol. And to achieve that, we must devise means that respect this culture.”