The recent landmark study declaring any amount of alcohol bad for health missed out on Kenya’s most notorious drinkers.
The study covering 26 years in 195 countries classified Kenya among nations with the lowest alcohol consumption in the world.
The report, which has created a global buzz since publication on August 23, puts the number of Kenyans consuming alcohol at less than 20 per cent. In Tanzania, the study shows, alcohol consumption is twice as much as in Kenya and three times higher in Uganda.
But there is more to these figures before Kenyans start uncorking the champagne. “Our consumption estimates might not fully capture illicit production or unrecorded consumption given our use of sales data in estimation,” says the global study.
This means thousands of Kenyans drinking very hard illicit, unrecorded or informal alcohol may not have been captured in the study.
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“I will explain the phenomenon once back in Nairobi in the next few days,” said Prof Peter Njenga Keiyoro of the University of Nairobi.
Prof Keiyoro is one of the two Kenyan experts who participated in the global alcohol study, the other being Dr Josephine Wanjiku Ngunjiri of the University of Embu.
Coincidentally on the same day the global alcohol reportwas released, a second one on consumption of unrecorded alcohol in Kenya was also published by the Texas A&M University, US.
Unrecorded drinks include illegal, informal or counterfeits which are likely to be of high unregulated alcoholcontent.
The study had analysed data on 4,500 adults in Kenyashowing 37 per cent of people are consuming this type of informal alcohol.
Overall, the study found people taking unrecorded alcohol are also likely to smoke and practice binge drinking regularly where they consume more than six drinks at a single sitting.
Alcohol marketers say Kenyans’ taste for hard spirits is largely an indicator of changing lifestyles and a society that has fallen on hard times mainly in this decade.
Citing 2010 data, the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2014 had listed Kenya as the leading consumer of beer in the region. Normally beer has less alcohol content than most other drinks.
The report showed 56 per cent of all alcohol consumed in Kenya then to be beer, 22 per cent spirits, two per cent wine and 20 per cent as others, including traditional drinks.
However, this map has since changed dramatically, with cheaper high strength spirits becoming the drink of choice, especially for low income earners.
The 2014 East African Breweries Ltd (EABL) performance report showed the highest growth in sales for the brewer, at 67 per cent, was in spirits mainly targeting the lower income earners.
Figures released in June by the National Campaign against Drug Abuse (Nacada) put the average national alcohol consumption at 12.2 per cent.
A study carried out last year by German and University of Nairobi scientists reported alcoholic drinks in Nairobi to have become ‘harder’ than ever before.
The researchers had tested legal second generation and illicit drinks in Nairobi reporting alcohol content to be way above safe or recommended levels.
Alcohol consumption, the new global study says, exposes the poor mainly to tuberculosis, liver cirrhosis and other chronic liver diseases.
The report says for richer countries and individuals, alcohol is the main cause of heart diseases, diabetes and liver cancer.