Eau Claire has received national recognition on a number of “best” lists in recent years, but the latest one isn’t a point of pride for community leaders.
For at least the second year in a row, Eau Claire was ranked No. 2 on the list of drunkest cities in America compiled by the financial news company 24/7 Wall Street.
The study indicated that 26.2 percent of adults drink excessively in the Eau Claire metro area, comprising Eau Claire and Chippewa counties. That’s significantly higher than the national average of 18 percent.
“It’s not a surprise,” said Lieske Giese, director of the Eau Claire City-County Health Department. “From a data perspective, we’ve known for a long time that excessive drinking and binge drinking are serious problems in Eau Claire and that Wisconsin is significantly worse than most other states.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines excessive drinking as including binge drinking — four or more drinks on a single occasion for women and five or more for men — and heavy drinking — eight or more drinks per week for women and 15 or more for men, according to 24/7 Wall Street.
The company reviewed the adult excessive drinking rate in 381 U.S. metro areas to identify the 20 drunkest and driest cities. The study used 2016 figures from county-level data provided by County Health Rankings Roadmaps, a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
Wisconsin claimed seven of the top 10 spots on the list of the nation’s drunkest cities, with Green Bay ranking No. 1, Appleton No. 3, Madison No. 4, Oshkosh-Neenah No. 6, Wausau No. 9 and La Crosse-Onalaska No. 10.
Utah, Tennessee and West Virginia occupied eight of the 10 slots on the list of driest cities.
Tackling alcohol misuse will once again be ranked as a top community priority in the upcoming annual report by the Eau Claire Healthy Communities action team, Giese said.
The key is changing the state’s long-standing culture glorifying alcohol consumption, she said, noting that some people like to make jokes about the high rate of excessive drinking in Eau Claire and Wisconsin.
“We can think it’s funny, but there’s a cost associated with excessive drinking,” Giese said, citing a recent study that calculated binge drinking costs the community $1,600 per person in Eau Claire. That factored in indirect costs such as higher health insurance rates, vehicle crashes, hospitalizations and lost productivity.
The 24/7 Wall Street report indicated that 38.9 percent of driving deaths in Eau Claire involve alcohol, compared with the national average of 30 percent, and the city’s estimated rate of 232 bars and restaurants per 100,000 residents is 26 percent higher than the national rate of 184 per 100,000.
Giese pointed out that Eau Claire has made some progress — surveys show a declining rate of unsafe alcohol use among teens and middle school students, and community members have attempted to address excessive drinking through discussion of a public good ordinance — in recent years.
“But I think there is still a lot of work to be done about how we want to approach this problem as a community,” Giese said.
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