Australia’s thirst for alcohol ‘underestimated’

Monday, November 1, 2010

SYDNEY - Australia’s “thirst for alcohol” has been “underestimated” in official consumption records for more than a decade, and people worldwide have mistaken the country’s drinking behaviour as stable.

There was a view that Australia’s drinking rate had become flat since the mid-1990s, though a revisit of historical data now says this was not the case, the AAP news agency reported Monday.

Tanya Chikritzhs, an associate professor at the National Drug Research Institute at Perth’s Curtin University, wrote in a paper published by the Medical Journal of Australia that this misconception stemmed from the way the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) rated the alcohol content of wine, which for 20 years it kept unchanged at just over 11 percent.

This was about two percent short of wine’s average alcohol content today, she said.

“In Australia… the alcohol content of table wine has gradually increased since the late 1980s because wine makers have increasingly used highly ripened fruit to give a richer flavour to wine,” Chikritzhs wrote. “This process produces more alcohol during fermentation.”

She said this minor flaw in calculations masked a steady rise in the nation’s per capita alcohol consumption.

Revised figures show the nation’s consumption dipped in 1995-96 to below 9.6 litres per person aged over 15 years, but by late this decade it was regularly more than 10.2 litres.

“Until 2010, official estimates of per capita consumption of alcohol in Australia have been consistent underestimates,” she said.

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