The World Health Organization (WHO) agreed on Thursday to launch a study into ways to counter alcohol abuse in what could be the opening shot of an international campaign against excessive drinking.
Its executive board backed a resolution brought by the European Union and others calling on the head of the United Nations health agency to carry out the probe and recommend steps to combat the world’s mounting drink problem, WHO officials said.
The move followed approval by the board of a WHO report drawing attention to the huge health and social costs of alcohol abuse, which killed 1.8 million people worldwide in 2000, the last year for which figures were available.
Although overall consumption appeared to be falling in some industrialized states, more people were “drinking to excess” and alcohol use by young people was rising around the world.
“Public health problems associated with alcohol consumption have reached alarming proportions, and alcohol has become one of the most important risks to health globally,” the report said.
Alcohol almost rivaled smoking in terms of the overall health burden it placed on societies, which includes such things as days lost from work.
The WHO is already spearheading a drive against smoking, with its 192 member states backing an international treaty calling for restrictions on advertising amongst other measures.
It has also launched a campaign against obesity, which is blamed for a rising death toll from diabetes and heart disease, particularly in developing countries.
The resolution, which called for talks with the drinks industry on measures to limit alcohol abuse, set a two-year deadline for the study to be finished.