Objective: The aim of this study was to compare the quantities of alcohol and types of alcoholic beverages consumed, and the timing of consumption, in centres participating in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC). These centres, in 10 European countries, are characterised by widely differing drinking habits and frequencies of alcohol-related diseases.
Methods: We collected a single standardised 24-hour dietary recall per subject from a random sample of the EPIC cohort (36 900 persons initially and 35 955 after exclusion of subjects under 35 and over 74 years of age). This provided detailed information on the distribution of alcohol consumption during the day in relation to main meals, and was used to determine weekly consumption patterns. The crude and adjusted (by age, day of week and season) means of total ethanol consumption and consumption according to type of beverage were stratified by centre and sex.
Results: Sex was a strong determinant of drinking patterns in all 10 countries. The highest total alcohol consumption was observed in the Spanish centres (San Sebastian, 41.4 g day-1) for men and in Danish centres (Copenhagen, 20.9 g day-1) for women. The lowest total alcohol intake was in the Swedish centres (Umeå, 10.2 g day-1) in men and in Greek women (3.4 g day-1). Among men, the main contributor to total alcohol intake was wine in Mediterranean countries and beer in the Dutch, German, Swedish and Danish centres. In most centres, the main source of alcohol for women was wine except for Murcia (Spain), where it was beer. Alcohol consumption, particularly by women, increased markedly during the weekend in nearly all centres. The German, Dutch, UK (general population) and Danish centres were characterised by the highest percentages of alcohol consumption outside mealtimes.
Conclusions: The large variation in drinking patterns among the EPIC centres provides an opportunity to better understand the relationship between alcohol and alcohol-related diseases.