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Alcohol is a greater killer in Finland than previously thought: 37,000 life years lost annually due to alcohol-related causes

Emma Kajander Liiketoimintajohtaja, Sote ja hyvinvointi
Emma Kajander

22.05.2024 - Alcohol is a significant health risk and one of the leading causes of premature deaths. Every year in Finland, more than 37,000 life years are lost prematurely due to the effects of alcohol, including indirect deaths. Relative to the population, the most life years lost due to alcohol are in Kymenlaakso, North Karelia, and Kainuu, according to a recent review by FCG Finnish Consulting Group commissioned by EHYT Finnish Association for Substance Abuse Prevention. This review is the first to examine both direct and indirect alcohol-related deaths and their impact on life years lost.

It has long been known that alcohol causes a significant number of premature deaths in Finland and Europe. Often, the focus is only on deaths directly caused by alcohol, but these are just the tip of the iceberg. The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that alcohol is a contributing factor in over 200 diseases or health conditions, increasing the societal disease burden and premature mortality.

The review by EHYT and FCG examines how many life years are lost due to alcohol in Finland, taking into account indirect deaths. The new calculation includes cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and suicides, where alcohol has been a significant underlying factor. The data shows that in addition to direct deaths, more than 12,500 life years are lost due to indirect alcohol-related deaths.

The review also reveals that alcohol is responsible for an estimated 8.8% of all prematurely lost life years (PYLL*) and 7.3% of all lost functional years (DALY**) in Finland. In particular, alcohol plays a central role in preventable premature life years lost, accounting for 22% (PYLL, preventable).

"When assessing the societal impacts of alcohol, it is important to consider both direct and indirect alcohol-related deaths. Instead of focusing on the number of deaths, it is also useful to calculate lost life years, which considers the age at which death occurred," says Emma Kajander, FCG's business director and specialist physician.

The review examined premature life years lost due to alcohol by welfare regions. Relative to the population, 884.2 life years per 100,000 inhabitants are lost in Kymenlaakso, 808.5 in North Karelia, and 804.9 in Kainuu.

The loss of life years impacts national economy and health The loss of life years means significant economic and human costs to society, as these years are lost from working and functional capacity. The effects are reflected, for example, in the productivity of Finns as losses in human capital and increased healthcare costs due to rising demand.

From the perspective of Finnish society, the national economy, and health, it is essential to support alcohol policies that promote public health and reduce alcohol-related lost life years.

"It is necessary to evaluate how premature alcohol-related deaths could be prevented. Cost-effective measures include restricting alcohol availability, price and tax policies, and marketing restrictions. The government should not promote alcohol policies that increase the costs and other harms of alcohol to the Finnish economy and health. Additionally, political decision-making should have a realistic picture of the overall societal costs of alcohol. Adequate resources should be allocated for such cost assessments," says Juha Mikkonen, Executive Director of EHYT.


*PYLL (Potential Years of Life Lost) is a way to examine mortality by considering the age at which death occurred and calculating lost life years relative to a mature lifespan. For example, a 25-year-old's death results in 50 prematurely lost life years, while a 70-year-old's death results in 5 prematurely lost life years.

**DALY (Disability-Adjusted Life Year) is a way to examine the disease burden by considering both lost life years and years lived with disability due to illness. DALY = PYLL + years lived with disability due to illness (number of new disease cases x disease-specific disability weight x duration of illness).


Source: EHYT ry


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