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Impact of a New Gender-Specific Definition for Binge Drinking on Prevalence Estimates for Women

      Background

      Binge drinking accounts for more than half of the 79,000 deaths due to excessive drinking in the U.S. each year. In 2006, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) lowered the threshold for defining binge drinking among women from ≥5 drinks to ≥4 drinks per occasion, in accordance with national recommendations.

      Purpose

      To assess changes in binge-drinking prevalence among women.

      Methods

      The relative and absolute change in binge drinking among U.S. adult women was assessed using pooled BRFSS data from the 2 years before (2004–2005) and after (2006–2007) the implementation of the new gender-specific definition. Analyses were conducted in 2008–2009.

      Results

      Binge-drinking prevalence among women increased 2.6 percentage points (from 7.3% in 2004–2005 to 9.9% in 2006–2007), a 35.6% relative increase. The percentage of women who reported consuming exactly 4 drinks in 2006 (3.6%) was similar to the increase in the prevalence of binge drinking among women that was observed from 2005 to 2006 (absolute change=2.9 percentage points).

      Conclusions

      The new gender-specific definition of binge drinking significantly increased the identification of women drinking at dangerous levels. The change in prevalence among women was primarily due to the change in the definition and not to actual changes in drinking behavior. The new gender-specific definition of binge drinking can increase the usefulness of this measure for public health surveillance and support the planning and implementation of effective prevention strategies (e.g., increasing alcohol excise taxes).
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