What and how much can we compare between countries? The DATA PROBLEM

Alcohol per capita consumption level is the primary measurement used to measure the alcohol consumption differences between countries. Governments are interested in rating themselves compared to others, and scientists are using these figures to assess the effectiveness of different interventions and policy measures. The problem is that these comparisons have, very often, gathered data that is not comparable.

WHO uses the amount of pure alcohol consumed in litres per year per adult, defined as a person aged 15 or older. Estonia has emerged as a problematic country regarding this data and its use at the international level.

At least a couple of countries (Estonia, Finland) calculate the total consumption by that 15+ definition and also based on the whole population, from birth to death. As it is easy to understand, these figures would be very different and couldn’t be compared in any form. But this is what has happened with Estonia. In 2014 WHO published a report with Country Profiles which claimed that the average consumption level in the period of 2008-2010 in Estonia was 10.3 litres. In reality, that number refers to that whole population figure.

15+ versus whole population
The 15+ consumption level was very different as shown in “Alcohol market, consumption and harms in Estonia” yearbook, also published in 2014 by The National Institute for Health Development and the Estonian Institute of Economic Research. The accurate consumption figures (15+) in 2008 was 14.18, in 2009, 11.90 and in 2010, 11.42 litres. In short – Estonian figures for whole population consumption data has ended up in 15+ comparison. The numbers look much better that way but, unfortunately, were far from reality.

Read further from our Nordic Alcohol Policy Report