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Street scene in Havana

A new study published in the Lancet’s EClinicalMedicine reinforces the importance of alcohol to non-communicable disease prevention in Cuba and in the Latin American region.

Researchers from Oxford and Cuba have conducted the first large prospective study to assess the effect of alcohol consumption on premature death in Latin America. The study found that 33% of men but only 5% of women reported drinking alcohol regularly, mostly rum. Each additional litre of rum a person drank per week was associated with a 25% higher risk of premature death. The findings suggest that one-fifth of drinkers will be killed by their habit.

The 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals include the prevention and treatment of harmful alcohol use as a global goal. The Global Burden of Disease study estimated that 2.4 million deaths were due to alcohol in 2019, but most of the current evidence comes from high-income countries where the types of alcohol and patterns of consumption may be very different to that in low- and middle-income countries.

In this new study, researchers from the Nuffield Department of Population Health and the National Institute of Cardiology in Havana, asked 120,000 middle-aged men and women from five Cuban provinces how frequently they drank alcohol and what they drank. They were then followed for an average of 17 years. The major causes of excess premature death in weekly drinkers were cancer, vascular disease, and external causes.

Senior author, Professor Sarah Lewington said, 'These findings reinforce the importance of alcohol to non-communicable disease prevention in the Latin American region', and Dr Nurys Armas who led the study in Cuba, said, 'The findings support limits to alcohol consumption that are lower than present recommendations in Cuba.'

Co-author Sir Richard Peto said 'Alfredo Duenas (1940-2020), Director of the National Cardiology Institute in Havana, got this large prospective study going more than 20 years ago despite the limited resources in Cuba and helped lead it for the rest of his life, hoping its findings would help people everywhere to avoid premature death and disability from tobacco and alcohol.'