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Comparative Analysis of Alcohol Control Policies in 30 Countries

Donald A Brand, Michaela Saisana, Lisa A Rynn, Fulvia Pennoni and Albert B Lowenfels

PLOS Medicine, 2007, vol. 4, issue 4, 1-8

Abstract: Background: Alcohol consumption causes an estimated 4% of the global disease burden, prompting goverments to impose regulations to mitigate the adverse effects of alcohol. To assist public health leaders and policymakers, the authors developed a composite indicator—the Alcohol Policy Index—to gauge the strength of a country's alcohol control policies. Methods and Findings: The Index generates a score based on policies from five regulatory domains—physical availability of alcohol, drinking context, alcohol prices, alcohol advertising, and operation of motor vehicles. The Index was applied to the 30 countries that compose the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and regression analysis was used to examine the relationship between policy score and per capita alcohol consumption. Countries attained a median score of 42.4 of a possible 100 points, ranging from 14.5 (Luxembourg) to 67.3 (Norway). The analysis revealed a strong negative correlation between score and consumption (r = −0.57; p = 0.001): a 10-point increase in the score was associated with a one-liter decrease in absolute alcohol consumption per person per year (95% confidence interval, 0.4–1.5 l). A sensitivity analysis demonstrated the robustness of the Index by showing that countries' scores and ranks remained relatively stable in response to variations in methodological assumptions. Conclusions: The strength of alcohol control policies, as estimated by the Alcohol Policy Index, varied widely among 30 countries located in Europe, Asia, North America, and Australia. The study revealed a clear inverse relationship between policy strength and alcohol consumption. The Index provides a straightforward tool for facilitating international comparisons. In addition, it can help policymakers review and strengthen existing regulations aimed at minimizing alcohol-related harm and estimate the likely impact of policy changes. Using an index that gauges the strength of national alcohol policies, a clear inverse relationship was found between policy strength and alcohol consumption. Background.: Alcohol drinking is now recognized as one of the most important risks to human health. Previous research studies (see the research article by Rodgers et al., linked below) have predicted that around 4% of the burden of disease worldwide comes about as a result of drinking alcohol, which can be a factor in a wide range of health problems. These include chronic diseases such as cirrhosis of the liver and certain cancers, as well as poor health resulting from trauma, violence, and accidental injuries. For these reasons, most governments try to control the consumption of alcohol through laws, although very few countries ban alcohol entirely. Why Was This Study Done?: Although bodies such as the World Health Assembly have recommended that its member countries develop national control policies to prevent excessive alcohol use, there is a huge variation between national policies. It is also very unclear whether there is any link between the strictness of legislation regarding alcohol control in any given country and how much people in that country actually drink. What Did the Researchers Do and Find?: The researchers carrying out this study had two broad goals. First, they wanted to develop an index (or scoring system) that would allow them and others to rate the strength of any given country's alcohol control policy. Second, they wanted to see whether there is any link between the strength of control policies on this index and the amount of alcohol that is drunk by people on average in each country. In order to develop the alcohol control index, the researchers chose five main areas relating to alcohol control. These five areas related to the availability of alcohol, the “drinking context,” pricing, advertising, and vehicles. Within each policy area, specific policy topics relating to prevention of alcohol consumption and harm were identified. Then, each of 30 countries within the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) were rated on this index using recent data from public reports and databases. The researchers also collected data on alcohol consumption within each country from the World Health Organization and used this to estimate the average amount drunk per person in a year. When the researchers plotted scores on their index against the average amount drunk per person per year, they saw a negative correlation. That is, the stronger the alcohol control policy in any given country, the less people seemed to drink. This worked out at around roughly a 10-point increase on the index equating to a one-liter drop in alcohol consumption per person per year. However, some countries did not seem to fit these predictions very well. What Do These Findings Mean?: The finding that there is a link between the strength of alcohol control policies and amount of alcohol drinking does not necessarily mean that greater government control causes lower drinking rates. The relationship might just mean that some other variable (e.g., some cultural factor) plays a role in determining the amount that people drink as well as affecting national policies for alcohol control. However, the index developed here is a useful method for researchers and policy makers to measure changes in alcohol controls and therefore understand more clearly the factors that affect drinking rates. This study looked only at the connection between control measures and extent of alcohol consumption, and did not examine alcohol-related harm. Future research might focus on the links between controls and the harms caused by alcohol. Additional Information.: Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at

Date: 2007
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DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0040151

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