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>WHO Report on Alcohol Use in Korea

March 26, 2011

>Thanks to the World Health Organization, this six page 2004 Report on Alcohol in Korea may be the mother lode (no pun intended) of data on alcohol consumption in Korea.

It happens to date to the year Hope was born.

The statistic I reported here that 96% of college-aged men and women surveyed in Korea reported drinking 1-3 times per week didn’t quite satisfy me. It may be fair to to say that in Korea the average first mother who makes an adoption plan is in the ballpark of “college-aged.” But it is probably a stretch to say the majority fit the survey group reported: college students. College entry in Korea is so highly competitive that many are not socially advantaged enough to qualify.

The WHO report offers some insights. First, drinking patterns in Korea vary predictably with socio-economic status: “Drinkers who live in the countryside are more prone to be heavy drinkers than city drinkers. According to professional difference analysis, workers in agriculture or the fishery consume more alcohol than any other profession, next to the self-employed business owner, service member person, salesperson, and the unemployed. These results indicate that free-living people without a regular strict schedule have more chances for drinking.” (WHO, 2)

Note that that finding refers to “heavy drinkers,” which WHO defines as those who drink almost daily. However, I think it is fair to guess that similar socio-economic patterns might be observed in populations who drink less heavily.

Another WHO finding is relevant because many Korean first mothers report being middle school (junior high) graduates or high school drop outs. “In a study of 2124 students (1092 boys and 1032 girls) who attended junior and senior high school in Seoul (age range 14 to 18 years old), the rate of lifetime prevalence of alcohol use was found to be 62%. An estimated 68% of students aged 12 to 16 years reported that they were monthly drinkers and 28% of them used alcohol weekly.” (WHO, 2)

So many Korean teenagers are already accustomed to drinking occasionally by the time they are junior-senior high age. If they drop out of school into that class WHO describes as “free-living people without a regular strict schedule” we can understand why they “have more chances for drinking.” Many young adults in Korea are not picking up a new social drinking habit, but rather, are entering more fully into the mainstream social drinking culture.

The WHO report also seems to confirm the U.S. placing agencies’ reports of the prevalence of alcohol exposure in adoption referrals: “Data from the 2001 National Health and Nutrition Survey (age group 20 to 29 years old) found that 86% of the populations sampled were regular drinkers.” (WHO, 2)

If you scroll to page 4 of the WHO report, you’ll find a fascinating mini-history of soju, that ubiquitous, potent (25-45% alcohol by volume) cousin of vodka to which so many of our Korean children are exposed.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I read the English translation of the Korean word soju. It means,”made of something burning.”

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