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Making sense of alcohol consumption data in Australia

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Has alcohol consumption in Australia increased in recent years?

Estimating the consumption of alcohol by individuals and societies is notoriously difficult, especially as it frequently relies on self-reported data. Much depends on the quality of the data-gathering instrument, the questions asked, and the veracity of the survey sample.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) conducts periodic health surveys to collect information on the health of Australians, including data on their alcohol consumption. The 2001 National Health Survey1 was the first for which the ABS made the confidentialised unit record files available, enabling researchers to undertake detailed data analyses. Further health surveys were conducted in 2004–2005, 2007–2008 and most recently in 2011–2012.2 As is typical for ABS surveys, they were based on sophisticated sampling methods and face-to-face interviews conducted by specially trained staff, with response rates of 80%–90%. These surveys are therefore of the highest quality. Alcohol consumption data were collected from respondents aged 18 years or over in the 2001 survey, and from those aged 15 years or older in the 2011–2012 survey. In this article, we compare the data from these two surveys to determine whether alcohol consumption in Australia changed over this period.

Alcohol consumption by adults aged…