300 deaths 'down to alcohol misuse'
More than 300 people died last year as a result of alcohol misuse, Northern Ireland's most senior doctor has revealed.
The effects of booze binges also accounted for 8,000 hospital admissions, according to the chief medical officer, Dr Michael McBride.
"Alcohol is now over 60% more affordable than it was 30 years ago. Given the relationship between pricing and consumption, I believe the evidence supports the introduction of minimum unit pricing as a desirable public health intervention," said Dr McBride.
"While we are seeing some progress in reducing binge drinking and the number of young people who get drunk, too many people here still drink more than they should."
In his annual report, Dr McBride also highlighted the wide gap in health status and life expectancy between the rich and poor in society. Men in the most deprived areas are expected to die an average 12 years earlier than those in more affluent parts of the country, while well-off women are likely to live about eight years longer than their poorer counterparts.
"This is simply unacceptable," said Dr McBride.
Economic hardship and high levels of deprivation have also impacted on the rates of suicide with almost 300 people a year taking their own lives in Northern Ireland - more than six times worse than the rate of road deaths.
Suicide is twice as high in deprived areas and men are three times more likely as women to take their own lives. Men living in deprived areas are particularly vulnerable, as are marginalised groups such as those who are unemployed or people with mental illness or substance misuse issues.
Obesity continues to be one of the major issues for the health service, with more than 75,000 people in Northern Ireland diagnosed as having diabetes - almost twice as many as a decade ago.
And, although smoking prevalence has remained at the same level for the past four years (25%), Dr McBride said more should be done to dissuade young people from taking up the habit.