Wealthy older people are drinking too much

According to new research, there’s a quiet health concern among the affluent and otherwise healthy aging population: Heavy drinking. The new study in BMJ Open reports that among people over 50 who can check off all the usual categories of good health – not smoking, physical activity, ample social contacts, and lack of depression – they’re oddly heavy drinkers. Why this is the case isn’t totally clear: Perhaps it’s a wealthy lifestyle thing? Perhaps the heavy drinking message isn’t reaching them? In any case, the researchers urge that healthy aging people be aware that drinking, too, contributes strongly to health, and that it can do a lot to reverse good health.

The British team looked at two waves of data from 9000 people who took part in the English Longitudinal Survey of Ageing (ELSA). The participants answered questions about their diet and alcohol consumption, physical activity, and about whether they felt lonely or depressed, or whether they were caretakers. They also answered questions about marital status, religious beliefs, employment status, income, education, and social engagement (how many friends they had, how often they participated in community or cultural activities, and the like).

“Higher risk drinking” was of particular interest to the research team. This is defined as more than 50 units of alcohol per week for men and more than 35 units for women. A small glass wine or beer is about two to three units, depending on the size, so higher-risk drinking is the equivalent of 17-25 glasses a week for men and 12-17 glasses for women. That’s a fair amount of alcohol.