Consumption of alcohol
The basic assumption of the literature on alcohol abuse and the related problems is that trends in alcohol-related problems are positively correlated with alcohol consumption. To that extent, data on country specific consumption of beer, wine, and spirits can be used as the starting point for an analysis of the impact of alcohol-related problems. While data on beer, wine and spirits consumption are not available in every country, the Brewers' Society has compiled data on global alcohol consumption as measured in liters of absolute alcohol per person. The average liters per capita for these countries from 1970 to 1989 are shown in Figure 2. In 1989, levels of consumption across countries range from a low of 1.2 liters per capita in the Republic of Korea (beer and wine) to a high of 13.9 liters per capita in Germany. (This data is also contained in Annex table A-l)
On average, worldwide alcohol consumption per capita has been relatively constant over the last 20 years. Although consumption has increased in countries such as Germany and Japan, it has declined in France, Chile, Venezuela, Peru, and many others. Given that increases in income tend to lead to even greater increases in the consumption of alcohol (the income elasticity ranges from 1.3 for beer to 2.5 for spirits) (Clements and Selvanathan 1991), it is likely that rising per capita income accounts for most of these increases, while falling incomes contribute to declines in consumption. It is interesting to note, however, that consumption increased in several of the countries of Latin America, despite falling incomes due to the economic crisis of the 1980's. Unfortunately, it is difficult to measure whether this was caused by increased production or a decrease in the relative price of alcohol--among other things. These increases are shown in figure 2 and Annex table A-l, demonstrating that significant increases in consumption occurred between 1970 and 1989 in Colombia, 72 percent, and Brazil at 242 percent, eventhough Latin America experienced a severe economic crisis in the 1980s.
The data for total alcohol consumption obscure interesting trends among the individual beverages. Between 1970 and 1989 per capita consumption of beer increased by 61 percent worldwide (85 percent in Asia), while per capita consumption of wine fell by 16 percent and the consumption of spirits increased by 29 percent. The general trends for beer and wine consumption per capita are shown in figures 3 and 4 while Annex tables A-2 and A-3 contain consumption data for beer and wine. As discussed earlier in the section on the mortality from alcohol-related diseases, the fall in alcohol consumption is an important trend in countries such as France and Italy, which traditionally had very high levels of consumption (and fairly elevated age standardized rates of cirrhosis).
Over the past twenty years, the consumption of spirits has increased substantially (See Annex table A-4). Unfortunately, there is little data on non-commercial spirits consumption. It may be, therefore, that production and consumption has increased even more rapidly for non-commercial beverages. Future increases in consumption will likely depend on expanding global markets for alcoholic beverages and increasing real incomes. The fact that spirits have the highest income elasticity (elasticities as high as 2.5 have been measured by Clements and Selvanathan) indicates that large increases in per capita consumption of spirits are unlikely without a significant rise in income per capita.
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