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Yes, health data shows that South Africans drink the most in Africa

This article is more than 7 years old

Detailing South Africa’s big headache of drunk driving, the BBC stated in a recent report that the country “has the highest level of alcohol consumption in Africa per capita, nearly double the continent's average”.

Is there evidence for this?

24 Black Label quarts to reach a litre of pure alcohol

BBC reporter Pumza Fihlani told Africa Check that she based her claim on the WHO’s 2014 report on alcohol and health.

The data in this report actually covers the time period 2008 to 2010, which is the most recent data the WHO has validated.

The figure for total alcohol consumption per capita is based on a three-year average of recorded and unrecorded alcohol intake.

Recorded alcohol intake is measured by production, import, export and sales statistics. Unrecorded alcohol intake refers to alcohol, such as home brews, which is not taxed and is outside the usual system of governmental control. Experts estimate this portion of alcohol use while the most precise data on alcohol intake is typically derived from alcohol sales tax data.

When these datasets are not available, as is the case with many African countries, the WHO uses a combination of statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organisation, projections and a range of modelling techniques to work out alcohol intake over time. This a senior technical officer in the WHO’s department of mental health and substance abuse, Dag Rekve, explained to Africa Check.

The WHO uses the typical alcohol content of different drinks to work out how many litres of pure alcohol it would represent. This total is then divided by the number of people older than 15 in a country to get a figure per person.

(Note: The percentage of alcohol in a drink indicates how much of the drink is pure alcohol. So if you drink a 750 ml quart of Black Label, of which the alcohol content is 5.5%, you are taking in 41.25 ml of pure alcohol. To reach a litre of pure alcohol, you’d have to drink 24 quarts!)

This equalled 11 litres of pure alcohol per person older than 15 in South Africa per year and was the highest in Africa. It is also more than double the average for 53 African countries.

Given that South Africa, Namibia and Botswana feature among the heaviest drinkers, it is no surprise that southern Africa has the highest number of people dying of diseases caused by alcohol intake in the African region.

Conclusion: South Africa has a drinking problem

Data from the World Health Organisation shows that the BBC was right when it said that “South Africa has the highest level of alcohol consumption in Africa per capita, nearly double the continent's average”.

Their most recent estimate (a three year average for the years 2008 to 2010) shows that South Africans older than 15 drank the equivalent of 11 litres of pure alcohol per person in a year. This was more than double the continent’s average (4.66 litres) during that time.


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