Low earners most at risk from local access to alcohol

Scotland’s poorest people are disproportionately affected by the availability of alcohol in their neighbourhood, research suggests.

The likelihood of those on the lowest incomes drinking too much increases in line with the availability of alcohol in their local area, researchers say.

Outlet density

By contrast, the amount of alcohol consumed by people on the highest incomes is far less affected by the number of outlets near their homes.

This could be driven by many factors, including that low-income groups may spend more time in their local areas and be more reliant on these neighbourhoods, researchers say.

Health impacts

A team from the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow studied links between alcohol consumption and income.

They combined data on the density of alcohol outlets in town and cities across the country with details from a national health survey of more than 28,000 people.

Policy focus

The team’s findings suggest that interventions to reduce drinking which focus exclusively on consumer behaviour – such as media campaigns and warning labels on bottles and cans – are unlikely to make significant improvements to health.

They argue that radical policy changes are needed to address health inequalities in alcohol-related harm.

Changes should include reducing the availability of alcohol, researchers say.

Reducing harm

The team has shown previously that there are more premises selling alcohol in the poorest parts of Scotland than in the wealthiest areas, and that the poorest areas have the highest levels of consumption and alcohol-related harm.

The study is published in the journal Annals of the American Association of Geographers. It was funded by The European Research Council and the Scottish Collaboration for Public Health Research and Policy.

Reducing alcohol-related harm is a key public health priority and Scotland is leading the way with the implementation of a Minimum Unit Price. There is however more to be done. Low-income groups suffer most from alcohol-related harm, and our research shows that they are also at the greatest risk from its ubiquitous availability in our neighbourhoods. Alongside price, we need to address the easy availability of alcohol.

Dr Niamh ShorttSchool of GeoSciences

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