Friday, October 25, 2013

Who is who in alcohol consumption

Alcohol consumption by country. Source: Wikipedia 2009
Yesterday, I was with some friend in a bar and we were talking about the cultural differences in food and drink behavior across Europe. For some strange reason the south Europeans have the perception that the north Europeans are a very drunk people and all the weekends they lay stoned in the snow. 

After have been there for a while, I do not really have that perception and the only thing that I have noticed is that they concentrate a little bit more their consumption in the weekends than us. Of course they drink... but nor more than the people from Spain or Italy. What is more, drink in the north or Europe is very expensive and people for example do not usually order a bottle of wine in a restaurant... just a glass. 

However, and as House and Grissom have stated before, our perceptions usually lie to us. Therefore, I will put some facts about this topic which are quite easy to find on Wikipedia and are an excerpt of the Global Health Organization. 
Pure alcohol consumption among adults (age 15+) in litres per capita per year[1]
 United Kingdom11.671.7013.374.933.532.410.67
 United States8.441.009.444.471.362.650.00
The table above is an excerpt of the data you can find on Wikipedia (I have deleted the not interesting countries, mostly non europeans). This data as Wikipedia explain is a mashup where "All columns refer to 2011 only, except the columns "recorded" and "total". The column "recorded" refers to the average recorded consumption for the period 2003–2005. Unrecorded consumption was calculated using empirical investigations and expert judgments. Total is the sum of the first two columns. The last four columns are a breakdown of the (2005) recorded alcohol consumption by type. Beer refers to malt beer, wine refers to grape wine, spirits refers to all distilled beverages, and the column "other" refers to all other alcoholic beverages. The values were corrected for tourism only in countries where the number of tourists per year was at least equal to the number of inhabitants." (I have bolted the interesting facts)

As a consequence, we can assume that data reflect the consumption in 2011 and the numbers from Spain has been corrected, because it has more than 50 million of tourists per year and it population is almost 47 millions of inhabitants.

Then... quite surprising data and quite not. I have bolted the most interesting countries and highlighted the Spain values. The total consumption in Spain is 11,62 liters of pure alcohol per person and year, while the so-called drunker-than-us countries of Europe are...

Germany 12,81 liters, Finland 12,52, Sweden 10,30 and Norway 7,81.

Wooow!!! I am very surprised about Norway... I did not expect that value... About the others... I think that we are not very far from Germany and Finland, just one liter, and Sweden is two liters behind which, in my opinion, begin to be an interesting difference.

To conclude, I think that make categorical statements is very dangerous and the data are the data. It is statistical data and everywhere you can find a very extreme cases of drunkenness. "Statistics are like mini-skirts, shows a lot of things, but does not show what is essential". I think this data would be completed very well with some medical research about cirrhosis and liver alcohol damage (like this). As I have aforementioned, the mainly difference is how one and another consume alcohol. We (north Europeans) have a culture where the alcohol consumption is more spread along the day and the week. It is very common to drink a beer or a glass of wine along the meats. That is not a normal behaviour in the north, where the consumption is done along the weekend and out of the "working" hours. For them people who drinks at lunchtime is an alcoholic. The consume is similar, how we consume is different. That not make anyone an alcoholic, at least in general sense of the word. (Of course is you drink one liter of pure alcohol in a night you have a problem, not only a health one... a mental one).