The nearer the bar, the greater the chances of risky drinking: study

Mon Nov 5, 2012 8:38am IST

A man drinks a shot of liquor at a bar in Prague September 12, 2012. REUTERS/David W Cerny

A man drinks a shot of liquor at a bar in Prague September 12, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/David W Cerny

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REUTERS - Living near a bar appears to encourage some people to overimbibe, with moving closer to a drinking establishment prompting some to up their alcohol intake, according to a Finnish study.

Researchers whose findings appeared in the journal Addiction followed nearly 55,000 Finnish adults for seven years and found that those who moved closer to bars were somewhat more likely to increase their drinking.

"Moving place of residence close to, or far from, a bar appears to be associated with a small corresponding increase or decrease in risky alcohol behaviour," wrote lead researcher Jaana Halonen, of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Kuopio, and her colleagues.

When a person moved one kilometer (0.6 mile) closer to a bar, the odds of becoming a heavy drinker rose 17 percent. "Heavy drinking" meant more than 10 ounces of distilled alcohol a week for men, and about seven ounces a week for women.

The link doesn't prove that mere distance from a bar alone causes people to drink more, according to the researchers.

Halonen said that one possibility is that drinkers choose to live near bars. But she and her colleagues also looked at a subset of people who didn't move - instead, the bars came closer to them - and the findings were similar among those individuals.

The researchers also accounted for other factors, such as the neighborhood poverty level - in Finland, lower-income people are move likely to drink heavily, Halonen said. But even here, distance from a bar remained tied to the odds of becoming a heavy drinker.

The results are based on surveys of 54,778 Finnish public employees followed over an average of seven years.

At the outset, there was a pattern of heavy drinking being more common when people lived close to bars, or to restaurants or hotels with bars.

Among people who were an average of 0.12 kilometers (400 feet) from the nearest drinking establishment, a little over nine percent were heavy drinkers. Of those 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles) away, some 7.5 percent were heavy drinkers.

Halonen said that for any one person, the risk of becoming a problem drinker is of course tied to a whole range of factors. But she said that it's possible that restricting bars' hours, or other alcohol retailers' operating hours, could limit risky drinking among locals.

Since the study was done in Finland, one question is how well the findings would apply to other countries. Halonen said this is unclear, since drinking habits and cultural norms vary by country.

"For instance, in the UK and Australia, heavy drinking is reported to be more common than in Finland, whereas in the USA it is less common," she said.

"On the other hand, it is unlikely that easy access to a bar would affect drinking only among Finnish employees."

SOURCE: bit.ly/NYc7Fx

(Reporting from New York by Amy Norton at Reuters Health; editing by Elaine Lies)

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