Koreans Mistakenly Labeled Second-Heaviest Drinkers

The World Health Organization's report in 2000 that Koreans were the world’s second-heaviest drinkers surprised a lot of Korean people. But the statistics were recently found to have been miscalculated, and that Korean drinkers were in fact about average for the 30 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The Korean Institute for Health and Social Affairs said Tuesday that according to the OECD's study on the per-capita alcohol consumption of its member nations in 2000, Korean people consumed an average of 8.9 liters of alcohol a year, roughly equal to 25 bottles of soju or 18 bottles of beer. The figure was less than the average for OECD nations, 9.5 liters. Korea ranked fifteenth among the 30 OECD countries. The study was conducted on people over the age of 15.

The OECD achieved the result by multiplying the pure alcohol percentage in liquor by the volume of sales, and then dividing the figure by the number of people more than 15 years old, the institute said. The Korea National Statistical Office calculates the amount of alcohol consumption by totaling the consumption of beer and soju by people more than 19 years old, regardless of the alcohol percent in liquor.

According to the office, Korean people consumed 68 bottles of soju last year. The citizens of Luxemburg were the heaviest drinkers, recording 14.9 liters, followed by Ireland (14.2 liters) and Portugal (13 liters.) Hungary was fourth (12.3) and the Czech Republic fifth (11.8.) France and Britain consumed a little bit more than Korea, recording 10.5 liters. New Zealand (8.9) and Italy (8.7) recorded figures similar to that of Korea. Japanese people consumed 8.2 liters on average.

An official at the association of liquor companies said that Korea had been wrongly considered the second heaviest drinker country because WHO had misinterpreted "spirits," the raw material for soju, written in documents of Korea's National Tax Service, as a strong alcoholic drink. WHO included both soju and spirits in its calculation, and the per-capita alcohol consumption of Korean people was calculated as 14.4 liters, instead of 9.2 liters. The association sent a letter of protest to WHO, and the National Tax Service changed the word "spirits" to "ethanol."

englishnews@chosun.com / Dec. 23, 2003 19:19 KST