In Europe, liver diseases, including cancer, are escalating alarmingly primarily due to excessive alcohol consumption and obesity. This growing health crisis demands effective policy responses.
Given this background, the European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL) commissioned the HEPAHEALTH II project to quantify the impact of different policy interventions and their combinations on the future burden of Chronic Liver Disease (CLD) and liver cancer and related costs in three European countries: France, The Netherlands, and Romania. HealthLumen’s microsimulation model was used to predict the health and economic burden and the impact of proposed policy interventions.
The recently published results show that Europe faces a significant health and economic burden from liver diseases, with CLD causing 287,000 deaths in 2019 alone. Without intervention, these numbers are projected to rise annually until 2030.
The research modelled a range of policy interventions. The most significant results came from the introduction of a €1 Minimum Unit Price (MUP) for alcohol, which is projected to prevent 11,550 CLD cases and 7,921 liver cancer cases by 2030 across the three countries in the study.
The research also considered the impact of combining interventions such as a €0.7 MUP, a sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) tax, and a volumetric tax on alcohol, which together could prevent 7,317 CLD and 5,390 liver cancer cases by 2030. This emphasises the effectiveness of comprehensive policy packages.
Implementing these policies would also result in substantial healthcare cost savings, allowing resources to be redirected. For instance, a €1 MUP could save France €612.49 million in liver cancer costs by 2030.
Another benefit is that ambitious policies like a €1 MUP not only have a significant impact on population health by reducing alcohol consumption, but also reshape the consumer environment by making changes to the way businesses and consumers interact, especially among heavy drinkers who are at the highest risk of disease.
It is also well established that liver diseases disproportionately affect lower-income populations. The proposed policies would not only reduce disease-related healthcare costs but also contribute to narrowing health inequalities.
Taking all these factors into account the study suggests applying the findings across the European Union, with the following policy implications
- Minimum Unit Price: Strongly advocate to government for the introduction of a €1 MUP for alcohol to address high consumption levels, particularly among heavy and moderate drinkers.
- Comprehensive Packages: Encourage the adoption of packages of complementary public health policies addressing both alcohol consumption and obesity to effectively help prevent liver diseases.
- National Strategy: Emphasise the need for a robust national alcohol and food strategy to support and sustain any new policy interventions.
In conclusion, a €1 MUP for alcohol, combined with other complementary policies, emerges as a powerful strategy not only to save lives but also to alleviate the economic strain on healthcare systems. The report’s comprehensive approach aims to address multiple risk factors simultaneously, signalling a shift toward proactive prevention in public health policy.
Written by Dr Laura Webber, Chief Operating Officer and Co-Founder, HealthLumen.
All IAS Blogposts are published with the permission of the author. The views expressed are solely the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Institute of Alcohol Studies.
The full report can be viewed here: HEPAHEALTH II 2023 Preventing liver disease with policy measures to tackle obesity and alcohol consumption
A peer-reviewed manuscript, recently published in the Journal of Hepatology, can be accessed here: Preventing liver disease with policy measures to tackle alcohol consumption and obesity: The HEPAHEALTH II study