Väinö Kannisto Award 2021 to Sebastián Peña

Väinö Kannisto Award of the year 2021 is granted to MD, PhD Sebastián Peña for his doctoral dissertation Socioeconomic differences in alcohol use, disorders and harm: Exploring the Alcohol Harm Paradox.

The study suggests lower socioeconomic status may be associated with greater harm from similar levels of alcohol use.

Alcohol use differs between socioeconomic groups

Harmful alcohol use is a global public health challenge. Finland has one of the highest socioeconomic differences in deaths due to alcohol in European countries.

Lower socioeconomic groups typically experience greater harms due to alcohol, despite reporting lower levels of alcohol use. What explains this “alcohol harm paradox” remains largely unknown.

Sebastian PenaSebastián Peña has examined socioeconomic differences in alcohol use in Finland and Chile. Both countries have high levels of alcohol use and harm. The study also investigated changes in the prevalence and socioeconomic correlates of alcohol use disorders in Finland between 2000 and 2011. The thesis explored two potential explanations of the alcohol harm paradox: whether biases in how people report their alcohol use (using biological markers as objective measures of alcohol use), and whether different behavioral risk factors (for example, alcohol use and smoking) could reinforce their effects with each other and with socioeconomic status (SES).

The study used data from national health surveys in Finland and Chile in one sub-study. The study used structured interviews to assess 12-month and lifetime alcohol use disorders, as well as linking data from population surveys to mortality data.

Participants in the lowest income quintile had 2.1 times higher risk of dying from a cause attributable to alcohol, despite reporting lower alcohol use. This confirmed the existence of the alcohol harm paradox in Finland. Biological markers explained a very small fraction of the socioeconomic differences in alcohol deaths. The study found strong joint (or interactive) effects for socioeconomic status and alcohol use and socioeconomic status and smoking. However, smoking, body mass index and their joint effects with income explained less than 20% of the effect of income on alcohol mortality.

Strong joint effects between SES and alcohol use suggest that people from lower socioeconomic status experience disproportionately greater harm due to alcohol at the same levels of alcohol use.

 “We need alcohol policies especially designed for people in lower socioeconomic groups, but also a broader policy agenda for tackling structural determinants of health”, Dr. Peña concludes.

More information

Sebastián Peña, Senior Researcher, Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare
+358 45 245 1360, sebastian.penafajuri(at)thl.fi
Twitter: @spenafajuri

Anna Rotkirch, Research director, Population Research Institute, Family Federation of Finland
+358 40 776 3086, anna.rotkirch(at)vaestoliitto.fi

Peña, Sebastián (2021) Socioeconomic differences in alcohol use, disorders and harm: Exploring the Alcohol Harm Paradox. University of Helsinki. The Faculty of Medicine.

In 1997 Dr. Väinö Kannisto received the Longevity Prize from the French IPSEN Foundation in recognition of his distinguished career in the field of demography. He donated the prize to the Population Research Institute at Väestöliitto, the Family Federation of Finland as the founding capital for the Väinö Kannisto Fund, which bears his name. The Väinö Kannisto Fund bestows the award every other year in recognition of the best demographic thesis in the field of mortality and health research.

The Award of 1 000 Euros will be donated to Sebastián Peña in a seminar of the Finnish Demographic Society on the 4th of November.