Page last updated:August 23, 2013

Health Behaviors of Adults: United States, 2008–2010

The ‘Health Behaviors of Adults’ report is the most recent in a series of reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) that monitor the prevalence of five key health behaviors for U.S. adults, using data from the National Health Interview Survey. This report presents prevalence estimates for alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, leisure-time physical activity, body mass index (BMI) (based on self-reported weight and height), and hours of sleep for civilian noninstitutionalised U.S. adults aged 18 and over and for selected population subgroups

The report identifies that the prevention of excessive alcohol use is a public health priority and is the focus of research and public health initiatives across a number of federal agencies. ‘While light to moderate alcohol use has been associated with health benefits for many adults, especially in terms of cardiovascular risk, regular or episodic heavy drinking and binge drinking pose considerable health risks. Any amount of alcohol poses risks for pregnant women and for adults with an alcohol addiction’, the report states.

The chapter on  alcohol within the report presents information on average alcohol use and episodic heavy drinking (that is, five or more drinks in 1 day) for U.S. adults. Nearly two-thirds of adults drink alcohol, with about 5% drinking at levels classified as ‘‘heavier’’—that is, women drink, on average, more than 7 drinks (14g) per week, and men drink, on average, more than 14 drinks (14g) per week. The prevalence of heavier drinking varies considerably by age, sex, and socioeconomic status. The chapter highlights selected findings for all adults by sex, age, race, Hispanic or Latino origin, education, poverty status, marital status, geographic region, and place of residence.

All Adults

65% of U.S. adults were current drinkers, 14.3% were former drinkers, 20.9% of adults were lifetime abstainers, and 5.4% of adults were classified as heavier drinkers.  About one in four adults had five or more drinks in 1 day at least once in the past year. Among current drinkers, about one in three had five or more drinks in 1 day in the past year.

Sex

70.8% of men and 59% of  women were current drinkers. 26.5% of women and 14.7% of men were lifetime abstainers. Men (22.7%) were nearly three times as likely as women (8.6%) to be moderate drinkers and somewhat more likely than women to be heavier drinkers. 

Men were about twice as likely as women to have had five or more drinks in 1 day at least once in the past year and about three times as likely as women to have had this much to drink in 1 day on at least 12 days during the past year.

Age

Current drinking was most prevalent among adults aged 25–44 (73.1%) and declined with age starting with age group 45–64.  Consumption of five or more drinks in 1 day at least once in the past year was strongly associated with age and declined with age from 35.1% among adults aged 18–24 to 2.3% for adults aged 75 and over.

Race

White adults (67.8%) were more likely than all other single-race groups to be current drinkers.  Lifetime abstinence was significantly higher among Asian adults (42.5%) than among most other race groups shown. White adults were more likely than black adults to be heavier drinkers. White adults (26.0%) were more likely than black adults (14.0%) and  about twice as likely as Asian adults (11.2%) to have had five or more drinks in 1 day at least once in the past year.

Hispanic or Latino Origin and Race

Non-Hispanic adults (66.6%) were more likely than Hispanic adults (54.4%) to be current drinkers and more likely to be heavier drinkers (5.8% v 3.2%). Non-Hispanic white adults (27.5%) were more likely than Hispanic adults (19.7%) to have consumed five or more drinks in 1 day at least once in the past year.

Education

The prevalence of current drinking adults increased with education from at 46.8% for adults with less than a high school diploma to 77.3% for adults with a graduate degree.  Adults with less than a high school diploma (8.1%) and those with a General Educational Development high school equivalency diploma (GED) (9.8%) were more than twice as likely as adults who held advanced degrees (3.6%) to be former regular drinkers.

Adults who had earned a GED (7.6%) were more likely to be heavier drinkers than adults who had graduated from high school (5.6%). Adults who had earned a GED (28.9%) were more likely than adults who were high school graduates (22.6%) and adults with less than a high school diploma (19.0%) to have had five or more drinks in 1 day at least once during the past year.

Poverty Status

The prevalence of current drinking increased with family income: 48.5% of adults having family incomes below the poverty level were current drinkers compared with 76.5% of adults who had family incomes four times the poverty level or more. Adults with family incomes below the poverty level (32.3%) were more than twice as likely as adults with family incomes four times the poverty level or more (13.6%) to be lifetime abstainers.

Adults in the upper family income groups were more likely to have had five or more drinks in 1 day at least once in the past year than were adults in the lower family income groups.  Among current drinkers, adults with family incomes below the poverty level were more likely than those in the highest family income group to have had five or more drinks in 1 day on at least 12 days in the past year.

Marital Status

The prevalence of lifetime abstention from alcohol was highest among never married adults (26.3%) and widowed adults (29.1%) and lowest among cohabiting adults (10.8%). Cohabiting adults (9.6%) and divorced or separated adults (6.6%) were more likely than married adults (4.1%) to be heavier drinkers. Cohabiting adults (34.3%) were more likely than married adults (20.7%) to have had five or more drinks in 1 day at least once in the past year.

Geographic Region

Adults living in the South were less likely to be current drinkers than adults living in the Northeast, the Midwest, or the West. Lifetime abstention was highest among adults living in the South compared with adults living in the other regions.

www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_10/sr10_257.pdf

All text and images © 2003 Alcohol In Moderation.