Autonomy and alcohol consumption may go hand in hand
New research shows that cultural values can be a strong predictor of alcohol consumption
— By Tanya Petersen
Countries with populations that value autonomy and harmony tend to have higher average levels of alcohol consumption than countries with more traditional values, such as hierarchy and being part of a collective. This new research finding, published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology, may have important implications for international public health organizations aiming to tackle problems associated with alcohol consumption.
Understanding why people drink alcohol excessively is of enormous importance to health authorities around the globe. Alcohol consumption caused more than 3.3 million deaths in 2012, 6% of all deaths in that year. It is strongly associated with high blood pressure, liver cirrhosis and chronic pancreatitis, and has a huge economic burden.
Many previous studies have focused on why, at an individual level, people drink excessively but, for the first time, researchers in Portugal and the UK have attempted to pinpoint broader societal and cultural predictors of alcohol consumption.
Using alcohol consumption and cultural value orientation data for 74 countries researchers modelled whether a country’s average level of alcohol consumption could be associated with various societal values such as autonomy, hierarchy, harmony and collectivism.
Although the results were slightly different between men and women, the research found that values of autonomy and harmony were shown to be positively associated with alcohol consumption and hierarchy and embeddedness negatively associated.
One of the study’s authors, Dr Richard Inman at the University of Lusíada in Porto, Portugal, hopes that the findings may help to inform policy. “Our results suggest that bodies like World Health Organisation should prioritize tackling alcohol consumption in countries that are more autonomous and less traditional and future research should be directed at further understanding the relationship between cultural values and alcohol.”
Co-author, Bath University’s Dr Paul Hanel says that there is also an obvious next step. “Researchers could create similar profiles and models to help understand the cultural underpinnings for other risky behaviours such as smoking and drug taking, or health issues such as obesity.”
Smoking, inactivity and diet, along with excessive alcohol consumption, are the noncommunicable diseases that cause 70% of deaths worldwide.
Original research article: Cultural Value Orientations and Alcohol Consumption in 74 Countries: A Societal-Level Analysis
Corresponding authors: Richard A. Inman
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