Jürgen Rehm on the Global Burden of Alcohol Use on Death & Disease

Fast Moving Front Commentary, January 2012

Jürgen Rehm

Article: Alcohol and Global Health 1 Global burden of disease and injury and economic cost attributable to alcohol use and alcohol-use disorders

Authors: Rehm, J;Mathers, C;Popova, S;Thavorncharoensap, M;Teerawattananon, Y;Patra, J
Journal: LANCET, 373 (9682): 2223-2233, JUN-JUL, 2009
Addresses: Ctr Addict & Mental Hlth, Publ Hlth & Regulatory Policies, 33 Russell St, Room 2035B, Toronto, ON M5S 2S1, Canada.
Ctr Addict & Mental Hlth, Publ Hlth & Regulatory Policies, Toronto, ON M5S 2S1, Canada.
(Addresses have been truncated)

Jürgen Rehm talks with ScienceWatch.com and answers a few questions about this month's Fast Moving Fronts paper in the field of Clinical Medicine.

SW: Why do you think your paper is highly cited?

Because it is a comprehensive overview on medical (deaths, burden of disease in disability adjusted life years) and economic outcomes of both alcohol consumption as a risk factor and on alcohol use disorders.

Does it describe a new discovery, methodology, or synthesis of knowledge?

It is a quantitative synthesis of current knowledge.

SW: Would you summarize the significance of your paper in layman's terms?

Even though the majority of the world's adult population are abstainers, almost 50% of adults consume alcohol in any given year. The pattern and level of alcohol consumption is problematic, however: there is too much alcohol being consumed in total, and a lot of alcohol is consumed in heavy drinking occasions, leading to premature mortality and burden of disease and injury.

Jürgen Rehm
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In the paper, we quantify the burden attributable to alcohol, and find that one in every 26 deaths worldwide in 2004 was due to alcohol (most of deaths in men). Similarly, one in every 22 years of life lost globally due to either premature mortality or to disability was caused by alcohol.

SW: How did you become involved in this research, and how would you describe the particular challenges, setbacks, and successes that you've encountered along the way?

When we first started in population health models for avoidable health risks, there was a lot of skepticism that such calculations were not possible or were not reliable enough. However, after a first estimate the methodology has been refined and today, comparative risk assessments can be used to quantify the burden associated with various risk factors in a comparable way. The Global Burden of Disease Study has markedly contributed to this development.

SW: Where do you see your research leading in the future?

We will be able to model the impact of interventions on risk factor-related burden of disease and injury, thus being able to help set priorities for health policy and prevention.

SW: Do you foresee any social or political implications for your research?

Our work has been one of the pillars underlying the Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol adopted by the World Health Assembly in 2010. It is also used to monitor progress in the efforts by the World Bank, the World Health Organization, the European Union, and several countries in trying to reduce alcohol-attributable harm.End

Jürgen Rehm, Ph.D.
Director, Social and Epidemiological Research (SER) Department
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)
Toronto, Canada

Senior Scientist and Head, Population Health Research Group
Toronto, Canada

Professor and Chair, Addiction Policy, Dalla Lana School of Public Health
University of Toronto
Toronto, Canada

Professor, Dept. of Psychiatry
Faculty of Medicine
University of Toronto
Toronto, Canada

Faculty member, Graduate Department of Community Health and Institute of Medical Science
University of Toronto
Toronto, Canada

Head, Epidemiological Research Unit
Technische Universität Dresden
Klinische Psychologie & Psychotherapie
Dresden, Germany



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