Revista Panamericana de Salud Pública
Print version ISSN 1020-4989
BABOR, Thomas F. and CAETANO, Raul. Evidence-based alcohol policy in the Americas: strengths, weaknesses, and future challenges. Rev Panam Salud Publica [online]. 2005, vol.18, n.4-5, pp. 327-337. ISSN 1020-4989. http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S1020-49892005000900013.
The objectives of this article are to describe the evidence base for alcohol policy in the Americas, to evaluate the extent to which national policies are likely to have an impact on public health, and to identify areas where alcohol policies could be improved. The paper begins with a brief review of epidemiological surveys of the prevalence of alcohol problems in the Americas. This is followed by an analysis of 32 prevention strategies and interventions in terms of the evidence for their effectiveness, amount of research support, cost to implement, and other feasibility issues. Overall, the strategies and interventions with the greatest amount of empirical support are low blood alcohol concentration levels for driving while intoxicated, controls on alcohol availability, age limits on alcohol purchases, and relatively high alcohol prices. The implications of the evidence are next discussed in relation to alcohol policy initiatives in the Americas, based on an analysis of the extent to which strategies and interventions currently used in 25 countries of the Americas are likely to have a public health impact on alcohol-related problems. The countries that have adopted the policies with the highest expected impact overall are Colombia, Costa Rica, Venezuela, and El Salvador. Nevertheless, the analysis indicates that almost all the countries of the Americas could improve the likelihood of preventing alcohol-related problems. Policy efforts in the developing countries of Latin America should focus on improving countermeasures against driving while intoxicated, measures that alter the drinking context, and limits on physical availability. For the developed, high-income countries of North America the goal should be to prevent deterioration of current drinking patterns and to reduce the overall volume of drinking. Given the low to moderate cost of many of the policies reviewed in this article, it now seems possible for communities and nations to substantially reduce the alcohol-related burden of illness in the Americas.
Keywords : Alcohol drinking; alcoholic intoxication; evidence-based medicine; policy making; Americas.