Harmful alchohol drinking seems to have become a middle class phenomenon, a new study from the charity organization AGE UK shows. In addition, the results suggest that older successful people are even more at risk.

Although affluent people tend to take better care of their health, for example consuming raw or organic foods, or getting in regularly to exercise at the gym, they also appear to like to celebrate with a drink more than less successful peers.

Age UK’s Chief Economist, Professor Jose Iparraguirre who carried out the research, said:

“Our analysis challenges popular perceptions of who is drinking too much."

Researchers noted that this is a ‘hidden health and social problem’, since on the exterior, most wealthy middle class people look to be living well. Iparraguirre added:

“It suggests public health messaging is not reaching high income groups who are most at risk. Because this group is typically healthier than other parts of the older population, they might not realise that what they are doing is putting their health in danger.”

The work, based on responses from 9,000 over 50s who took part in the English Longitudinal Survey of Ageing, investigated various factors which could influence heavy drinking, for example, marital status, care responsibilities, smoking, education, social engagement, diet, physical activity, and employment. The study also showed that women are more likely to be heavy drinkers when they reached around age 50, although not in the next few decades.

The results showed the risk of harmful drinking peaked for men in their early 60s, then gradually tapered off. For women, those on high salaries, and those who had retired, were more likely to drink heavily.

Smoking, higher education, and good health were all linked to heightened risk in both sexes.

“We can sketch the problem of harmful drinking among people aged 50 or over in England as a middle class phenomenon: people in better health, higher income, with higher educational attainment and socially more active are more likely to drink at harmful levels,” said Professor Iparraguirre.

Our findings suggest that harmful drinking in later life is more prevalent among people who exhibit a lifestyle associated with affluence and with a ‘successful’ ageing process.

Harmful drinking may then be a hidden health and social problem in otherwise successful older people.”

Excessive alcohol drinking is directly associated with over 60 medical conditions, including liver disease, mouth cancer, and stroke. In women, breast cancer risk doubles.

José Iparraguirre Socioeconomic determinants of risk of harmful alcohol drinking among people aged 50 or over in England BMJ Open 2015;5:e007684 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2015-007684


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