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Blacks may not receive same health benefits from moderate alcohol drinking as whites

According to a nationally representative study of the US population by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, although moderate alcohol consumption appears to lower mortality, the protective effect may vary according to race and gender.

Previous research has found an association between moderate drinking and lowered risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and premature mortality, but those studies were conducted among mostly white populations, and some studies have suggested that blacks may not experience similar risk reduction.

An epidemiological analysis was performed on data from 126,369 white people and 25,811 black. The CDC survey data were collected from 1997 to 2002, and follow-up continued to monitor death rates through 2006.

The survey respondents reported frequency and level of alcohol consumption and gave information on education, employment and income. The researchers assessed “social integration” into society, such as living in poverty or being unemployed. Other healthrelated behaviours, including whether they smoked, and information on any medical conditions were also recorded. Moderate alcohol consumption was broadly defined as 1-2 drinks a day for men and 1 a day for women. The results showed that 13% of white men and 24% of black men had never consumed alcohol. Among women, 23% of white women and 42% of black women reported never drinking.

For men, the lowest risk of mortality was among white men who consumed 1-2 drinks, 3-7 days per week and among black men who didn’t drink at all. For women, the lowest risk of mortality was among white women consuming 1 drink, 3-7 days per week, and among black women who consumed 1 drink on 2 or fewer days per week.

Given the findings, the authors suggested further research into other factors that might be involved in the connection between alcohol and mortality risk, such as lifestyle related to diet, physical activity, sleep, youthful experimentation vs. coping with hardships; socioeconomic status and other markers of social integration; differences in physical, chemical, and social exposures in both occupational and residential environments; genetic differences; and gender differences.

Source: “Black–White Differences in the Relationship Between Alcohol Drinking Patterns and Mortality Among US Men and Women,” Chandra L. Jackson, Frank B. Hu, Ichiro Kawachi, David R. Williams, Kenneth J. Mukamal, and Eric B. Rimm, American Journal of Public Health, online April 23, 2015.

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