18 May, 2012 Last updated: 30 Nov, 2014

Deakin University research has found economic and health savings of $789 million a year could be made if Australian adults cut their alcohol consumption by five standard drinks a week.

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Economic and health savings to be made if Australian adults cut their alcohol consumption by five standard drinks a week.

A Deakin University study, funded by VicHealth, shows significant economic savings and health benefits could be achieved if Australian adults cut their alcohol consumption by 3.4 litres a year.

Deakin health economists, working with researchers with the National Stroke Research Institute, estimated the economic savings and health benefits from reducing alcohol consumption in Australia. They found that a 3.4 litre cut per adult per year could result in a $789 million annual saving to the health sector and in one third fewer cases of alcohol related disease (such as alcohol dependence, suicides, injuries and cancers), deaths and working days lost.

“Excessive alcohol consumption is a global health issue, with around 13 per cent of the Australian adult population having long term drinking problems,” said Anne Magnus, a Senior Research Fellow with Deakin’s Population Health Strategic Research Centre.

“Through this study we calculated the potential economic and health benefits if a realistic reduction in alcohol consumption were achieved, which is an important consideration in light of the current political and policy interest in Australia, and overseas.

“We found that considerable economic and health benefits could be gained if Australian adults drank an average of five standard drinks less each week. This is equivalent to three-four less glasses (150 ml) of wine or four-six less cans (375ml) of beer (full to light strength respectively) each week.”

The researchers modeled the likely outcomes of a drop in alcohol intake from the average 9.8 litres per adult per year to 6.4 litres. They looked at economic and health impacts as well as the effect on workforce productivity, household duties (such as cooking, shopping, cleaning, child care and maintenance) and leisure time.

They found potential cost savings of $789 million in the health sector, $427 million in workforce productivity and $21 million in home-based productivity. These savings were due to 98,000 (35 per cent) less cases of disease and 380 (38 per cent) less deaths related to long term high risk levels of alcohol consumption and 21,000 (34 per cent) less healthy years of life lost as a result of this risk factor.

The results also showed five million fewer working days lost and a drop of 54,000 lost days of household duties would be possible.

However the results were not all positive, with the researchers estimating a potential 1000 additional early retirements because the data showed that high risk drinkers reported staying in the workforce longer than lower risk drinkers.

 Ms Magnus said this work showed, in understandable concrete terms, the sizeable benefits of prevention efforts that aim for realistic and achievable reductions in alcohol consumption in Australia.

“It also shows where those benefits are most likely to be felt,” Ms Magnus said.

“Most benefits will occur in the health sector, followed by the paid work force with not so much benefit going to the unpaid workforce or leisure time of individuals.

“These results can be compared with the benefits of realistic reductions in other harmful behaviours such as smoking or physical inactivity, so that policy makers concerned with disease prevention can assess more accurately where the largest gains are realistically possible and hence where to direct their efforts.”

The results of this study will be published in the American Journal of Public Health and currently appears ‘ahead-of-print’ online on the journal’s website.

This study was part of a project funded by VicHealth, completed in 2009, to evaluate the health, economic and financial benefits of reduction in prevalence of six health risk factors – alcohol, physical inactivity, high BMI, tobacco smoking, inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption, and intimate partner violence.