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Falling into temptation

Study says the closer one lives to a bar, the greater the chances of risky drinking

Living near a bar appears to encourage some people to over-imbibe, with moving closer to a drinking establishment prompting some to up their alcohol intake, according to a Finnish study.

Since the study was done in Finland, one question is how well the findings would apply to other countries

Researchers, whose findings appeared in the journal Addiction, followed nearly 55,000 Finnish adults for seven years and found that those who moved closer to bars were somewhat more likely to increase their drinking.

“Moving place of residence close to, or far from, a bar appears to be associated with a small corresponding increase or decrease in risky alcohol behaviour,” wrote lead researcher Jaana Halonen, of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Kuopio, and her colleagues.

When a person moved one kilometre closer to a bar, the odds of becoming a heavy drinker rose 17 per cent. “Heavy drinking” meant more than 300ml of distilled alcohol a week for men, and about 200ml a week for women.

The link does not prove that mere distance from a bar alone causes people to drink more, according to the researchers.

Halonen said that one possibility is that drinkers choose to live near bars. But she and her colleagues also looked at a subset of people who didn’t move – instead, the bars came closer to them – and the findings were similar among those individuals.

The researchers also accounted for other factors, such as the neighbourhood poverty level – in Finland, lower-income people are likely to drink heavily, Halonen said. But even here, distance from a bar remained tied to the odds of becoming a heavy drinker.

The results are based on surveys of 54,778 Finnish public employees followed over an average of seven years.

At the outset, there was a pattern of heavy drinking being more common when people lived close to bars or to restaurants or hotels with bars.

Among people who were an average of 120 metres from the nearest drinking establishment, a little over nine per cent were heavy drinkers. Of those 2.4 kilometres away, some 7.5 per cent were heavy drinkers.

Halonen said that for any one person, the risk of becoming a problem drinker is, of course, tied to a whole range of factors. But she said that it is possible that restricting bars’ hours, or other alcohol retailers’ operating hours, could limit risky drinking among locals.

Since the study was done in Finland, one question is how well the findings would apply to other countries. Halonen said this is unclear, since drinking habits and cultural norms vary by country.

“For instance, in the UK and Australia, heavy drinking is reported to be more common than in Finland, whereas in the US it is less common,” she said.

“On the other hand, it is unlikely that easy access to a bar would affect drinking only among Finnish employees.”

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