Background: Regional differences in population levels of alcohol-related harm exist across Great Britain, but these are not entirely consistent with differences in population levels of alcohol consumption. This incongruence may be due to the use of self-report surveys to estimate consumption. Survey data are subject to various biases and typically produce consumption estimates much lower than those based on objective alcohol sales data. However, sales data have never been used to estimate regional consumption within Great Britain (GB). This ecological study uses alcohol retail sales data to provide novel insights into regional alcohol consumption in GB, and to explore the relationship between alcohol consumption and alcohol-related mortality.
Methods: Alcohol sales estimates derived from electronic sales, delivery records and retail outlet sampling were obtained. The volume of pure alcohol sold was used to estimate per adult consumption, by market sector and drink type, across eleven GB regions in 2010-11. Alcohol-related mortality rates were calculated for the same regions and a cross-sectional correlation analysis between consumption and mortality was performed.
Results: Per adult consumption in northern England was above the GB average and characterised by high beer sales. A high level of consumption in South West England was driven by on-trade sales of cider and spirits and off-trade wine sales. Scottish regions had substantially higher spirits sales than elsewhere in GB, particularly through the off-trade. London had the lowest per adult consumption, attributable to lower off-trade sales across most drink types. Alcohol-related mortality was generally higher in regions with higher per adult consumption. The relationship was weakened by the South West and Central Scotland regions, which had the highest consumption levels, but discordantly low and very high alcohol-related mortality rates, respectively.
Conclusions: This study provides support for the ecological relationship between alcohol-related mortality and alcohol consumption. The synthesis of knowledge from a combination of sales, survey and mortality data, as well as primary research studies, is key to ensuring that regional alcohol consumption, and its relationship with alcohol-related harms, is better understood.