Alcohol and mortality: methodological and analytical issues in aggregate analyses
This supplement includes a collection of papers that aim at estimating the relationship between per capita alcohol consumption and various forms of mortality, including mortality from liver cirrhosis, accidents, suicide, homicide, ischaemic heart disease, and total mortality. The papers apply a uniform methodological protocol, and they are all based on time series data covering the post-war period in the present EU countries and Norway. In this paper we discuss various methodological and analytical issues that are common to these papers. We argue that analysis of time series data is the most feasible approach for assessing the aggregate health consequences of changes in population drinking. We further discuss how aggregate data may also be useful for judging the plausibility of individual-level relationships, particularly those prone to be confounded by selection effects. The aggregation of linear and curvilinear risk curves is treated as well as various methods for dealing with the time-lag problem. With regard to estimation techniques we find country specific analyses preferable to pooled cross-sectional/time series models since the latter incorporate the dubious element of geographical co-variation, and conceal potentially interesting variations in alcohol effects. The approach taken in the papers at hand is instead to pool the country specific results into three groups of countries that represent different drinking cultures; traditional wine countries of southern Europe, beer countries of central Europe and the British Isles and spirits countries of northern Europe. The findings of the papers reinforce the central tenet of the public health perspective that overall consumption is an important determinant of alcohol-related harm rates. However, there is a variation across country groups in alcohol effects, particularly those on violent deaths, that indicates the potential importance of drinking patterns. There is no support for the notion that increases in per capita consumption have any cardioprotective effects at the population level.
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