Technical Paper 3:
Preventing Alcohol-related harm in Australia: a window of opportunity

2.1 - Alcohol consumption in Australia and other countries

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Information on levels and patterns of alcohol consumption is diverse, and it can be difficult to identify the key features for the purposes of monitoring trends in drinking and related harm, and the possible opportunities for intervention. Unfortunately, in Australia at the current time, some of the most significant and valuable data is not readily available to the public health field.[12] For example, alcohol sales data, while it is known to be collected and analysed by the alcohol beverage industry, is not available for the purposes of this paper, nor indeed is it easily accessed for public health research purposes in general. The Taskforce notes with some concern that the continuation of the most accessible data sets on alcohol consumption levels in Australia, collected and compiled by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), is currently under review. Efforts are therefore urgently required to seek the continuation of these valuable data sets.

Per capita consumption of alcohol is an important measure from a public health perspective because it is ‘to a considerable extent, related to the prevalence of heavy use, which in turn is associated with negative effects’.[13] Total per capita consumption of alcohol in Australia alcohol grew rapidly in the 1970s and has not returned to low levels since then; in 2007 it was estimated to be 9.88 litres of alcohol per capita (see Fig. 2). Among the different alcoholic beverage categories, there have been significant changes in per capita consumption over the past 70 years. Since peaking at over 6.4 litres of alcohol per capita in the mid-1970s, per capita consumption of beer has steadily declined and is now at a level similar to that of the late 1950s.

This reduction partly reflects changes in consumer tastes towards wine, and the increase in the availability of relatively low-priced wine. Consumption of wine has increased almost fourfold since the late 1940s, when intake was 0.77 litres of alcohol per capita. In 2005 wine consumption in Australia reached an all time record of 3.13 litres of alcohol per capita. When interpreting the trend in per capita consumption in Australia, it should be noted that the data does not take into account the ageing of the population; as people age, they generally consume less alcohol. Hence, as the Australian population continues to age over the coming decades, it is expected that per capita alcohol consumption will most likely decrease.

Figure 2: Apparent per capita consumption of alcohol (litres of alcohol), Australian persons aged 15+ years, 1994 to 2007 (years ending 30 June)
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Figure 2: Apparent per capita consumption of alcohol (litres of alcohol), Australian persons aged 15+ years, 1994 to 2007 (years ending 30 June)

Source: ABS unpublished data and ABS 2008

Per capita consumption of alcohol in Australia is high by world standards. Australia is ranked within the top 30 highest alcohol-consuming nations, out of a total of 180 countries. Table 1 shows Australia’s level of per capita alcohol consumption (9.02 litres of pure alcohol) and ranking (#30) compared to other selected countries in 2003. More recent estimates of per capita alcohol consumption for Australia (9.88 litres of pure alcohol in 2007) suggest that our international ranking is now likely to be even higher.

Table 1: Per capita consumption of alcohol by country and rank (out of 180 countries), selected countries*

Rank

Country

Per capita consumption

1

Luxembourg

15.56

2

Ireland

13.69

7

Germany

11.99

8

UK

11.75

10

Spain

11.68

14

France

11.43

20

Russian Federation

10.32

23

Netherlands

9.68

74

China

5.20

24

New Zealand

9.68

30

Australia

9.02

Table 1: Per capita consumption of alcohol by country and rank (out of 180 countries), selected countries*

Rank

Country

Per capita consumption

31

Greece

9.01

33

USA

8.61

37

Italy

8.02

42

Japan

7.59

52

South Africa

6.72

63

Sweden

5.96

70

Thailand

5.59

120

Papua New Guinea

1.62

168

Indonesia

0.09

* Values are for various years before and including 2003
† Per capita alcohol consumption (litres of pure alcohol) among adults
Source: WHO 2008[14]

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