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Quantifying the disease burden of alcohol’s harm to others

New research will focus on the "second hand harm" of alcohol - the non-drinking victims of drunk driving, assault and family violence, and Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

Professor Sally Casswell.

Professor Sally Casswell from Massey University’s SHORE & Whāriki Research Centre has been awarded nearly $1 million in funding from the Health Research Council of New Zealand, to investigate what is known as the “second hand” harm of alcohol.

The research, which will be carried out over the next three years, focuses on the non-drinking victims of drunk driving, victims of assault including family violence and the impact of alcohol on unborn children resulting in Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.  

Professor Casswell says the study will provide new knowledge about alcohol harm that is largely invisible or neglected. “This work will provide a more complete picture of the burden of alcohol harm in communities to inform decision making about policy on alcohol control and contribute to international efforts to reduce alcohol consumption.”

While many New Zealanders are aware of the harm alcohol can create for drinkers the extent of “second hand” harm, - the effects of heavy drinking on others - is less well appreciated. “In contrast, research on passive smoking has been of significant importance in developing tobacco control policies,” Professor Casswell says.

“By quantifying these impacts of alcohol’s harm to others in New Zealand, the study will better inform debate on what is appropriate policy to control the negative impacts of alcohol use.”

The research will access the Statistics New Zealand Integrated Data Infrastructure, allowing for data linkage across individuals and between datasets, to determine the contribution of alcohol in key scenarios highlighting alcohol’s harm to others. These include Foetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder, car crashes and assaults (including domestic violence) - separately for Māori and non-Māori. It will also provide estimates of years of life lost and disability adjusted years of life.

Chief executive of the Health Research Council of New Zealand Professor Kath McPherson says, "We are really pleased to invest in this research, and this team, to realise the potential value of big data around harmful alcohol use and to inform better policies and better supports for our people and our communities.” 

Professor Casswell will lead the research, alongside Dr Taisia Huckle, Professor Helen Moewaka Barnes and Dr Jose Romeo, SHORE & Whāriki Research Centre, Massey University, Professor Jennie Connor, School of Medicine, University of Otago and Professor Jurgen Rehm, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Canada.

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