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Scotland tops world league for rise in cirrhosis deaths

By Judith Duffy. 11 Mar 2007

Binge-drinking culture blamed as male fatalities soar by 143% in a decade


Numbers of deaths from liver disease have risen in Scotland more rapidly than any other country in the world over the past decade as a result of the nation's binge-drinking culture.

Shocking new research has revealed that the mortality rate from cirrhosis of the liver increased by a massive 143% for men and 70% for women between 1992 and 2002 north of the Border. The rise means that Scotland now ranks in the top 10 countries in the world with the highest death rates from cirrhosis and is on a par with some eastern European countries, such as Lithuania.

The figures, published online by the Journal Of Hepatology, are the latest in a long line of grim statistics relating to the toll that drinking is having on the nation.

Last month it was revealed that, despite having only 8.5% of the UK population, Scotland has three-quarters of the worst 20 areas for drink-related fatalities from liver disease, heart complaints, alcohol psychosis and poisoning.

The study, carried out by a team of international researchers headed by Dr Cristina Bosetti of Milan's Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologi che Mario Negri examined the death rates from cirrhosis in 41 countries between 1980 and 2002.

It notes that, while mortality from the disease has been steadily declining in most countries worldwide since the mid or late 1970s, in the UK rates have been rising, especially in Scotland.

The report says that in some countries, such as Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, exceedingly high rates of death from cirrhosis can be partly explained by the prevalence of the liver infection hepatitis, as well as alcohol consumption.

But it adds: "The marked rises in the mortality from cirrhosis in Ireland and the UK (particularly Scotland) over the past two decades ... are largely attributable to the recent rises in alcohol consumption in these populations."

The Scottish Executive last month published an updated action plan on alcohol, with a promise to crack down on shops selling drink to children. But campaigners and politicianshave renewed calls for more radical steps to be taken in light of the new figures.

Jack Law, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, described the country's cirrhosis deaths as "shameful"and urged ministers to take action on the price and availability of booze. "The lure of deeply discounted alcohol comes at a huge cost to families, communities and services, and this can only get worse if we fail to address this issue," he said.

Shona Robison, SNP health spokeswoman,arguedthatsupermarkets shouldbeparticularlytargetedin relation to the selling of cheap drink.

Nanette Milne, health spokeswoman for the Conservatives, said Scotland's drinking culture had to change.

Health minister Andy Kerr said they were taking "extensive measures" to tackle alcohol misuse, including developing sensible drinking messages and a crackdown on irresponsible drinks promotions. But he added that Scots must take "personal responsibility" for binge-drinking. "We cannot afford to assume it's someone else's problem," he said.

See also
Diabetes epidemic 05-03-07
Scotland's shame 23-02-07
Mortality rates 16-02-07
Bowel cancer screening to save 150 06-03-07
Sick man of Europe 02-03-07
Pricing alcohol 24-02-07
Teens and alcohol 15-02-07

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