Monday, 20 October 2014

There are more drunks in Blackpool than Barton-le-Clay


Apparently it's a shocking discovery. There are huge regional variations in the incidence of liver disease:

The study uncovered a stark north-south divide, with more than four times as many male adults dying from the disease in Blackpool (58.4 per 100,000) than central Bedfordshire (13 per 100,000).

Predictably this has resulted in a call for more controls over alcohol - doubtless we'll get the familiar set of prescribed solutions: minimum unit pricing, advertising controls, bans on 'super-strength' beer and plain packaging or graphic health warnings. But look again at those figures and ask two questions.

Does it really surprise you that there are a lot more problem drinkers in Blackpool? It really doesn't surprise me and, without wishing to do down Blackpool, it is entirely in line with the town's demographics. I suspect you'll see more street drinkers in a day on Blackpool front than you will over half a year in Dunstable or Flitwick. And this is because Blackpool is where those people go. The town doesn't breed those street drinkers but it's where too many of them end up.

Secondly, we need to ask whether the rise in liver disease really is down to drinking - check out the figures:

The report, Deaths from Liver Disease – Implications for End of Life Care in England, showed that the north-west region had the highest liver disease death rate – 24 per 100,000, with 11.4 from alcohol complications. It was followed by the north-east with 21.9 and 10.1. The east of England had the lowest rate, 12.9 and 4.9, followed by the south-west, 14.3 and 6.4, and the south-east,14.8 and 5.8.

Nearly 60% of deaths from liver disease aren't due to alcohol. But whenever the statistics are quoted we get a splurge of anti-alcohol campaigning. I've noted before that there has been a rise in viral hepatitis cases and there has also been an increase in morbid obesity. And a good chunk of Blackpool's problem will be down to drug use rather than alcohol.

To put the problem in context, 0.0114% of the Blackpool population die as a result of liver disease caused by alcohol abuse. This is a big problem for those sixty or so people in Blackpool and we need to get better at dealing with this issue but it really isn't a massive public health problem.

But then, when the Guardian journalist starts with a blatant untruth there really isn't much hope is there:

The changes in pub opening hours and higher levels of alcohol consumption are directly linked to the “rapid and shocking” increase in death rates, according to Prof Julia Verne, who led the research for PHE.

Alcohol consumption has fallen by around 18% over the past decade and this decline matches (although I'm not saying it was caused by the change) the liberalising of licensing.


No comments: