Researchers have often wondered about the true cost of alcohol.
This goes far beyond how much your favourite bottle or can costs at the local liquor store; it includes the health costs of alcohol-related diseases and hospitalizations. Calculating these costs has not been easy, but that has changed with the creation of a new methodology program called the International Model of Alcohol Harms and Policies (InterMAHP), a development led by University of Victoria’s Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research PhD candidate Adam Sherk.
“There’s nothing like it, it’s novel for sure,” Sherk said. “We’re doing projects globally and nationally.”
In simple terms, researchers can upload different data sets such as those related to geography, health, and economic consumption and InterMAHP can translate that into a cleaner data set that will allow researchers to find connections and draw conclusions to the results.
“For example, look at liver cirrhosis,” Sherk said,“Say there’s 100 deaths by liver cirrhosis in BC; we know alcohol is linked to it but people who don’t drink also die of it, so we need a way to upload data and determine costs and likelihoods.”
Once all data sets for this scenario are uploaded, subgroups such as age, gender, and location can be better organized and analyzed.
Recently InterMAHP was used by the Canadian Substance Use Costs and Harms Scientific Working Group to find that annual substance use costs Canadians more than $38 billion dollars, with alcohol leading the way at $14.7 billion, followed by tobacco ($12 billion) and opioids ($3.5 billion).
With these discoveries, Sherk said new policies are now being considered by the federal government, including setting a minimum price for alcohol, a strategy that was just put in place in Scotland.
InterMAHP has also been used by the World Health Organization, and was recently presented in part of a WHO workshop in Moscow, after it calculated that alcohol intake in the European region is highest in the world, with over 10 percent of all deaths being caused by alcohol.
Sherk has most recently used the program to determine the dietary effects of alcohol. His study is currently under review for publication, and found that on average people who drink get 11 per cent of their recommended daily calories from alcohol.
“That’s 200 plus calories every single day,” Sherk said, adding that the biggest problem is a lack of nutritional data on alcoholic beverages. “Most people don’t really have any idea of how many calories they’re drinking.”
Sherk hopes that once his study is published, it could push for policy changes on nutritional information for alcoholic beverages.
For more information on InterMAHP you can head to uvic.ca
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