The contribution of alcohol to the East-West life expectancy gap in Europe from 1990 onward

Int J Epidemiol. 2018 Jun 1;47(3):731-739. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyx244.


Background: Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries have lower life expectancies and higher alcohol-attributable mortality than Western European countries. We examine the contribution of alcohol consumption to mortality across Europe, and specifically to the East-West life expectancy gap from 1990 onward.

Methods: We retrieved alcohol-attributable mortality rates (GBD Study 2013) and all-cause mortality rates (Human Mortality Database) by age and sex for nine CEE countries and for the EU-15 countries. We assessed country-specific potential gains in life expectancy (PGLE) by eliminating alcohol-attributable mortality using associated single decrement life tables. We decomposed the life expectancy differences between each CEE country and the EU-15 population-weighted average for 1990-2012/13 into alcohol-attributable and non-alcohol-attributable mortality.

Results: In 2012/13, the PGLE for men and women were, respectively, 2.15 and 1.00 years in the CEE region and 0.90 and 0.44 years in the EU-15 region. The contribution of alcohol to the East-West gap in life expectancy was largest among men in Russia {2.88 years [uncertainty interval (UI): 1.57-4.06]}, Belarus [3.70 years (UI: 1.75-5.45)] and Ukraine [2.47 years (UI: 0.90-3.88)]. The relative contributions increased in most of the countries between 1990 and 2005 (on average, from 17.0% to 25.4% for men, and from 14.7% to 22.5% for women), and declined thereafter (20.2% for men and 20.5% for women in 2012/13).

Conclusions: Alcohol contributed substantially to the East-West life expectancy gap in Europe, and to its increase (1990-2005) and decline (2005 onward). Diminishing alcohol consumption in CEE countries to Western European levels can contribute to mortality convergence across Europe.

Keywords: Alcohol; East-West gap; Europe; life expectancy; mortality.