Chilean researcher obtains funding for project on Aging

July 13, 2017

Esteban Calvo, member of the Columbia Aging Center (CAC) faculty, adjunct assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia University, and professor of public policy at Universidad Diego Portales in Chile, was part of a three-member group that was awarded funds by the CAC to develop aging science. Their project, titled “Aging well with alcohol? Harnessing longitudinal data from 20 countries to understand health impacts of moderate drinking among older adults,” entails a collaboration between him, Katherine Keyes (CAC Faculty Fellow, and associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University), and Katherine Ornstein (assistant professor of geriatrics and palliative medicine at Mount Sinai).

While harm related to alcohol use is typically seen as an issue affecting youth, alcohol is an important determinant of health in older age as well. In the US, an estimated 14% of men and 3% of women over the age of 65 engage in excessive drinking, representing more than six million Americans, and new evidence suggests that excessive consumption is on the rise in older adults in many countries, including the US, China, and many countries in Europe. An estimated 3.8% of all global deaths and 4.6% of all disability-adjusted life years are attributable to alcohol, including cardiovascular disease and many cancers. Yet moderate alcohol consumption has been claimed to be associated with positive health effects, including cardiovascular benefits, prevention of disability, social engagement, and enjoying a long and health life. However, an increasing confluence of evidence suggests that observed moderate drinking ‘benefits’ may be artifacts of confounding or do not hold in all populations. Therefore, examining variations in the role of alcohol in potential positive aging processes is an important issue for scholars in public health, geriatrics, and social sciences, as well as for policymakers and practitioners. Clarifying the nature of the relationship between alcohol consumption and health, including subpopulations for whom even small amounts of alcohol may adversely influence health is critical to successfully promoting societies of longer and healthier lives. Further, efforts to improve the plasticity of aging through intervening on alcohol consumption would be improved by understanding how social norms, drinking contexts, and policies/regulations around alcohol affect the relationship between consumption and health.

To these goals, this project will merge and harmonize massive amounts of data to create a new dataset of longitudinal nature and multilevel structure, including 169,271 individuals repeatedly observed within 20 countries. The proposed project will be among the largest studies ever undertaken to examine the relationship between consumption and all-cause as well as cause-specific mortality across countries, assessing variation in the association between consumption and mortality by demographics and comorbidities, as well by genetic variation in alcohol metabolizing capacity for a subsample of countries. Further, the proposed work will be the first to examine country-level social and economic predictors of variation in alcohol consumption and mortality. In sum, this study will take an interdisciplinary, multi-level, and dynamic approach to analyze interactions between biological, behavioral, and contextual factors that explain whether and why moderate alcohol consumption is sometimes beneficial but to others detrimental to aging well.

Read the report on Calvo’s work published by La Segunda