The French Drinking Myth (and the NZ disaster)

But the French drink heaps of red wine and they are so slim and healthy!

No. This is a myth.

The most in-depth alcohol report lays bare the serious and catastrophic French drinking problems. Though the French are often seen (and see themselves) as a nation of moderate drinkers, the truth is they have similar levels of alcohol consumption and dependence to anywhere else in Europe. According to Inserm⁷, a French Public Health Research Centre, in 2009, five million French people have medical, psychological or social problems linked to alcohol abuse and at least two million are dependent.

So seven million people and ‘no problem’? This was seven years ago now and sadly the problem is now much worse.

“Alcohol is an important cause of premature mortality. It is responsible for almost a quarter of all of 15-34 year old deaths and almost one in five of all 35-64 year old deaths. The causes of death attributable to alcohol are above all cancers (15,000) and cardio-vascular diseases (12,000)”
Catherine Hill, Service for Biostatistics and Epidemiology at the Institue Gustave Roussy, near Paris⁷.

The French drinking culture is deadly

French obesity has doubled in just 15 years to seven million, and over 32% of the population is now overweight or obese. Changing Western attitudes and cheap supermarket-supplied alcohol have made excessive drinking normal, particularly among the middle classes. The ‘French paradox’ of living longer but still drinking has more to do with the vegetable-rich Mediterranean diet and eating less overall, than the alcohol.

What does all that so-called healthy wine drinking do for the French?

  • Alcohol kills 49,000 French people each year, or 134 people every day⁷
  • Over seven million people in France have a drinking problem (conservatively)
  • 13% of all male deaths are due to alcohol⁷
  • This is one in seven deaths of all French men, from alcohol alone⁷
  • 36,500 French men dying every year from alcohol-related illnesses⁷
  • 40% of the alcohol deaths are young people under 65⁷
  • The remaining deaths are cirrhosis, suicide and mental illness⁷
  • The average French person has put on more than 3kg since 1997
  • 15% of the French population is now obese
  • 32% of the French population is now overweight
  • The most significant weight gains are among the young French 18–24 year olds, whose obesity levels shot up by 35% in the 2010-2013 period alone.

Nothing for us to emulate or glorify

Does this sound like a healthy relationship with alcohol? Is this something to emulate? Good for the body and mind? The only small benefits of quality red wine are the flavonoids and polyphenols, and these can be found in much larger amounts in fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, wholegrains and legumes.

The lower the alcohol consumption and promotion, the lower the deaths

In countries where alcohol is not widely promoted, recommended and drunk, such as Switzerland and Denmark, alcohol deaths remain very low. In Switzerland barely 5% of male deaths are alcohol related. In Denmark it is less than 1%.

The final word – 100 years ago…

On 24 January 1904, the New York Times reported on a congress held in Paris ‘to deliberate upon the means to eradicate the evil of excessive alcohol consumption in the Republic of France.’

That article is over 110 years old.

Nothing has changed.

So spare me the “let’s drink healthily like the French do” rubbish please and in fact, in NZ, we have taken our drinking to an entirely new level.

Reality Check: There are around 200 alcohol-related violent and sexual assaults every day in New Zealand. There are 20 alcohol-related deaths a week in New Zealand. Alcohol kills about 1000 New Zealanders each year, including deaths from alcohol-related accidents, trauma and organ damage.1 Over 80% of New Zealand doctors see patients every week with health problems caused or increased by alcohol.2

One-in-four Kiwis drink heavily

More than one person dies through alcohol poisoning every week in New Zealand. That is one person, every week, and this number is growing dramatically every year. In 2000, 41 Kiwis died directly from alcohol. By 2008 that number rose to 254.3 This means we now have around one New Zealander drinking themselves to death every single day. We are so reliant on booze that we also now have 25% of New Zealand drinkers drinking heavily. Most of us know many people who have passed away or been severely affected by alcohol.

“25% of alcohol-related deaths are actually cancer deaths. The ethanol in alcohol is a group one carcinogen, like asbestos”

Professor Doug Sellman, National Addiction Centre, Otago, New Zealand

The ‘booze culture’ in New Zealand

Our children have taken it to an entirely new level of harm. Over 30% of our students do not stop drinking even after vomiting from alcohol poisoning. The same amount of kids have passed out due to heavy drinking in the previous six months alone.4 Student visitors double their alcohol intake when in New Zealand.5 We know conclusively that alcohol in youth is directly linked to severe depression.6 We have one of the highest depression and suicide rates in our kids anywhere in the world. Alcohol is not to be glorified or held in high esteem.

“Alcohol is sold here without a warning label on the bottle. There is no indication of what is a safe or even maximum ‘dose’; no warning against drinking when pregnant; no warning that it leads to health problems, contributes to depression and suicide and can lead to addiction and death”

Roger Brooking, Clinical Manager, Alcohol and Drug Assessment and Counselling, Wellington, New Zealand

Why do our children drink so poorly and in ever-increasing amounts?

Because we do. We spend more money at the supermarket on alcohol than anything else. Then we wonder why our kids are drinking so much and have such high levels of brain- and emotion-related problems. I know it sounds alarmist but the hard cold truth is that New Zealand and most countries now have a national alcohol crisis.

Open any paper on any Monday morning and you will see the carnage.

More broken families that will never be put back together again.

Written by Jason Shon Bennett from ExceptionalHealth® in June 2016.


  1. Dr Geoff Robinson, Capital and Coast District Health Board’s Chief Medical Officer. The Dominion Post, 30 June 2010.
  2. The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners, 2010 survey. The Press, 1 October 2010.
  3. New Zealand Coroner’s Office, 2010.
  4. NZ Medical Journal, 2011. Reported by the NZ Herald, 10 June 2011.
  5. Researchers at the University of Washington. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, October 2010.
  6. Headstrong (The National Centre for Youth Mental Health and the UCD School of Psychology), ‘My World Survey’ covering 14,306 people aged 12–25 years, released 16 May 2012.
  7. Study with quotes and statistics, by the Service for Biostatistics and Epidemiology, at the Institue Gustave Roussy, as published by the European Journal of Public Health on March 3, 2013.

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