Israelis Drink Less Than Most of the OECD

But the rate of alcohol consumption in Israel is increasing at one of the fastest among industrialized nations, according to new report.

Itay Gleitman

Alcohol consumption in Israel has risen by 25 percent over the last two decades, according to a new report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Nevertheless, it remains lower than in most other OECD countries, the report said.

On average, each adult in the OECD consumes about 10 liters of pure alcohol per year – the equivalent of more than 100 bottles of wine. That is 2.5 percent less than the average two decades ago, but the overall decline conceals sharp rises in consumption in many countries, including Finland, Iceland, Israel, Poland, Norway and Sweden. Consumption has also risen in many non-OECD members, including Russia, Brazil, China and India, the report said.

Israelis averaged 2.5 liters per year in 2012, far below the OECD average. Of the 40 countries in the study only India, Turkey and Indonesia experienced lower consumption rates.

Moreover, the report ranked Israel’s drinking patterns in the second least risky category on a scale from one to five.

Nevertheless, Israel ranked fifth out of 40 in the change in alcohol consumption between 1992 and 2012, with a per capita increase in consumption of about 25 percent.

According to the Health Ministry, there are currently some 80,000 alcoholics in Israel, plus another million people defined as alcohol abusers, meaning they consume enough alcohol to harm themselves but aren’t yet addicted.

The OECD report, based on World Health Organization data, noted that while moderate drinking is fine, excess consumption exacts a heavy price on both the individual and society. And it is precisely the rise in excess drinking that worries the OECD.

Heavy drinking has risen even in countries where overall alcohol consumption has declined, the report noted.

“The proportion of girls and boys aged under 15 who have consumed alcohol is rising, and girls are now almost as likely as boys to have tried drinking,” it said. “The proportion of children who have experienced drunkenness has risen for both sexes to over 40%. This risks compounding another worrying trend in the future: Levels of hazardous and binge drinking among younger people are rising, notably for young women in some countries, while they have declined or at least remained stable in older age groups.”

The proportion of children under 15 who have gotten drunk at least once rose from 30 to 46 percent among boys and from 26 to 41 percent among girls, the report said. It also noted that in many countries, about 20 percent of the population consumes two-thirds of the alcohol.

Nor is Israel exempt from this downward trend: Here, too, children are starting to drink at a younger age, and the difference between boys and girls is shrinking.
About one third of the alcohol drunk in OECD countries is beer, while 25 percent is wine and the rest is spirits, unrecorded or other forms. The Israeli breakdown is markedly different: 50 percent spirits, 44 percent beer and 6 percent wine.

The Knesset passed a law which took effect last year that limits advertising and marketing of alcoholic beverages, the report noted. In addition, Israel reformed its taxation of alcohol.

“The reform increased the tax per liter of alcohol content from 21.28 shekels [$5.50] to 105 shekels, irrespective of the pre-tax price of the product, thereby aiming at increasing the price of relatively cheap, high-alcohol products,” the report said. “The effects of these parallel reforms are to be assessed in the next couple of years.”

The WHO defines alcohol as one of the world’s three leading causes of sickness and death, alongside nicotine addiction and high blood pressure. In a study published three years ago, it said alcohol was involved in at least 2.5 million deaths a year worldwide.