October 22, 2023
22nd July 2021-
Heavy Drinking is Increasing in Africa.
A recent study found that alcohol was the cause of over 740,000 cancer cases globally in 2020. The majority of cases were in men, at 568,700, while only 172,600 cases were found in women. The most common cancers caused by alcohol consumption are cancer in the esophagus, liver, and breast. Furthermore, even moderate or low levels of alcohol consumption led to cancer, it was not just the heavy drinkers.
Alcohol use is increasing in sub-Saharan Africa. The study found that the proportion of cases of cancer due to heavy drinking in men was highest in southern Africa and in women, highest in southern and western Africa.
According to the Kasi health and wellness tracker, an annual survey uncovering consumer trends when it comes to their health and wellness. The survey explores eating, drinking, exercise, and health care habits and attitudes amongst urban dwellers in seven countries. The tracker reveals that alcohol consumption is generally on the rise in recent years. Those surveyed who say they drink alcohol regularly increased from 58% in 2017 to 70% in 2018 and 2019 to 69% in 2020. Amongst them, those surveyed who consumed between1-4 drinks on a typical day there drinking increased from 33% in 2017 to 39% in 2019, before a small dip to 37% in 2020. However, the heavy drinkers who indicated they consumed 5 or more drinks fluctuated yearly from 18% in 2017 to 27% in 2018 to 25% in 2019 then peaked at 30% in 2020.
Men Drink More Than Women.
In line with global trends, men drink more than women. In fact, 63% of female respondents indicated they drink alcohol, compared to 70% for men. For those that responded they have 1-4 drinks, it was 34% for women and 39% for men. For those that responded they have 5 or more drinks, it was 24% for women and 26% for men. While men tend to drink more than women, for heavy drinkers there is less difference based on gender.
This trend where heavy drinking does not differ based on gender follows when asked about the frequency of their drinking. 7% of both men and women responded that they drink 4 or more times a week. 16% of women and 18% of men drink up to three times a week, 20% of women and 23% of men drink up to four times a month and 14% of women and 16% of men drink monthly or less. 38% of women and 31% of men indicated they do not drink alcohol in the frequency survey. Overall, men drink more than women in Africa.
Public Awareness of the Impacts of Alcohol on Cancer Diagnosis Needs to be Highlighted.
In South Africa, alcohol sales have been banned during the pandemic to encourage compliance with stay-at-home orders and lockdowns. Globally, cigarette packages have graphic warning labels that smoking causes cancer. However, alcohol ads are often encouraging drinking; having fun in the sun with a drink in hand, happy hour, and “it’s five o’clock somewhere.” The warnings often end at “please drink responsibly,” putting the onus of responsibility on the consumer and not on the corporation that produces the damaging beverages.
Both causal alcohol consumption and heavy drinking are portrayed to be part of growing up and part of adulthood, but the serious negative impacts such as cancer are overlooked. Public awareness of these risks is low as there is no significant focus on them. The study on cancer found that public awareness of the impact of alcohol on cancer is not even well known. With heavy drinking leading to the highest levels of cancer in southern and western Africa, it is pertinent that the governments launch public health campaigns that raise awareness, in a similar fashion to that of COVID-19.
Governments and the World Health Organization launched public health campaigns to educate the world on the pandemic. The processes and resources are already in place, so now would be the opportune time to launch a campaign to raise awareness of the impacts of alcohol on people’s health. The damage of alcohol is often overlooked as well due to people saying drinking is fine because they are not alcoholics, but alcoholism is only one disease that exists. People are more likely to listen when the word cancer is brought up because cancer is much more common and is often diagnosed in even the healthiest of people. Most people know they or a loved one could be diagnosed with cancer with no warning and the cause of that might be alcohol, but the knowledge that alcohol is the cause is much less known. This needs to change.
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