| New Year revellers in Hong Kong. (Reuters)
Chicago, Dec. 31 (Reuters): For the bleary-eyed able to stomach a tidbit of health news after ringing in the New Year, more Americans are getting fat and drunk each year, with sometimes deadly results, researchers said today.
More than one in five American adults could be classified as obese in 2001, up almost 6 per cent from the year before. And more than one in four Americans engage in bouts of binge drinking — defined as five or more drinks at one sitting with the goal of getting drunk — up 35 per cent from 1995.
“I guess you could say we’re fat and drunk,” said Timothy Naimi, a researcher at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, summarising a pair of studies based on a huge telephone survey of more than 200,000 adults.
“We’re a society that is somewhat taken with excesses,” Naimi said. The studies’ publication in the Journal of the American Medical Association was timed by the journal to coincide with the revelry associated with New Year’s eve.
US driving fatalities more than double on New Year’s day as celebrants take to the roads.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an average of 393 people died in traffic accidents after midnight on New Year’s day over the past three years, more than half of them alcohol-related. That compares to the daily average of about 115 traffic deaths — roughly 42,000 a year — 40 per cent of them blamed on alcohol.
Bingeing — whether on alcohol or food — is a potentially fatal health problem, CDC researchers said.
Abuse of alcohol kills roughly 100,000 Americans a year, the third-leading cause of preventable deaths after smoking and physical inactivity. Binge drinking accounted for roughly half those 100,000 deaths, Naimi said.
Drinking and driving was a particularly deadly combination among binge drinkers, who were 14 times more likely to get behind the wheel than adults who drank but not to excess. Binge drinking is also behind many sexual assaults, domestic violence incidents, and other crimes, the report said.
Drinking to get drunk is more prevalent among men than women, with men accounting for 81 per cent of the 1.5 billion US binge-drinking episodes in 2001, it said.
Three-quarters of binge drinkers were people who otherwise considered themselves moderate drinkers, the study found, and the practice is not confined to the college-age set, with 70 per cent of episodes undertaken by people over age 25.
Roughly half of adult Americans do not drink at all.
Efforts to stem binge drinking might find a parallel in anti-smoking campaigns that seem to be working, Naimi said.
But while tax increases on cigarettes have helped choke off demand especially among the young, alcohol taxes have not kept pace with inflation over the past two decades, he said.
More than a dozen US states lag in lowering the legal blood-alcohol limit for impaired drivers, legislation that has been found to save lives, and many doctors ignore public health pleas to question patients about their drinking habits.