Czechs second-biggest drinkers in EU

Health care experts say a strategy is needed to reduce overall consumption

Czechs are the second-heaviest drinkers, tied with France, in both the European Union and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), according to OECD health statistics released recently. Lithuania was first in both cases.

But health officials warn that this achievement is a warning sign and that alcohol is a significant burden on the Czech healthcare system.

Czechs drank 11.7 liters of alcohol, compared to Lithuania's 13.2 liters. The analysis counted the amount of pure alcohol in spirits, wine, beer and other beverages with higher than 0.5 percent content consumed by people 15 years old and higher, using figures from 2016.

Czechs have long led the world in beer consumption, at 143.3 liters in 2016, but beer, including non-alcoholic beer, for these statistics were counted as having an average 3.4 percent alcohol, accounting for 4.87 liters of pure alcohol, slightly less than half of all Czech consumption.

The level of alcohol consumption has been fairly steady since 2000, wavering between 11.4 and 12.1 liters.

The lowest level of alcohol consumption among the 23 EU members (out of 28) tracked in the OECD report was Greece, at 6.5 liters, followed by Italy at 7.1 liters and Sweden at 7.2 liters. Among all the countries tracked, the lowest was Indonesia, at 0.3 liters per person.

Slovakia, which until 1993 was part of Czechoslovakia along with the Czech Republic, registered a much lower level of alcohol consumption, coming in 15th place in the OECD report (and 14th in the EU) with 9.9 liters.

Worldwide the leader is Belarus, according to separate figures from the World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO's public health officer for Europe, Hans Kluge, said excessive alcohol consumption was one of the biggest problems facing the Czech healthcare system. Kluge and other WHO officials were in Prague recently to meet with Czech health officials.

“We know that the problems in your country are excessive alcohol use and also smoking. And this is already the case with teenagers. This is very worrying in the Czech Republic. We need to work not only with the Ministry of Health but also with other ministries. This has to be done by the whole government and society as a whole,” he said, according to Czech Radio (ČRo).

Czech Health Minister Adam Vojtěch acknowledged there was a problem. “In the international comparison in alcohol consumption, we are, unfortunately, at one of the top spots. And this is especially true of teenagers. We should therefore look at education, cooperation with parents and the availability of alcohol that is cheap and easy to access in our country,” he said in a ministry press release. He called for a long-term strategy and said the meeting with WHO officials was beneficial in outlining steps for reform.

Psychologist Martin Jára, director of the League of Open Men (Liga otevřených mužu), told daily Pražský deník that aside from alcohol being cheap and socially acceptable, it is often used to try to solve problems. He encouraged better access to and better attitudes about mental health care as a way to reduce alcohol use.

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