This article has a correction

Please see: J Epidemiol Community Health 2013;68:191

J Epidemiol Community Health 68:71-77 doi:10.1136/jech-2013-202576
  • Research report

Persistent long-standing illness and non-drinking over time, implications for the use of lifetime abstainers as a control group

  1. Nicola Shelton
  1. Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, UCL, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Linda Ng Fat, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, UCL, 1-19 Torrington Place, London WC1E 6BT, UK; l.ngfat.10{at}
  • Received 27 February 2013
  • Revised 9 July 2013
  • Accepted 16 August 2013
  • Published Online First 28 October 2013


Background Non-drinkers are shown to have worse health than moderate drinkers in later life. We examine the preceding health status of non-drinkers in early adulthood, and secondly whether persistent poor health is associated with persistent non-drinking.

Methods Using two prospective British birth cohort studies established in 1958 (National Child Development Study (NCDS)) and in 1970 (British Cohort Study (BCS)), participants who reported ‘never’ or ‘never had an alcoholic drink’ to drinking status questions in successive waves from 23 to 26 years in the NCDS/BCS were derived as ‘lifetime abstainers’. Logistic regression on the odds of being a lifetime abstainer was carried out on changes in limiting long-standing illness (LLSI) in the NCDS and long-standing illness (LSI) in the BCS, adjusting for sex, education, poor psychosocial health, marital and parental status.

Results Participants with an LLSI in consecutive waves since 23 years had 4.50 times the odds of someone who did not have an LLSI of being a lifetime abstainer at 33 years (95% CI 1.99 to 10.18) and 7.02 times the odds at 42 years (2.39 to 20.66) after adjusting for all factors. Similarly, in the BCS, having an LSI in consecutive waves resulted in higher odds of being a lifetime abstainer at 30 years (OR 2.80, 1.88 to 4.18) and 34 years (OR 3.33, 2.01 to 5.53).

Conclusions Persistent LSI was associated with remaining a non-drinker across adulthood. Studies comparing the health outcomes of moderate drinkers to lifetime abstainers that do not account for pre-existing poor health may overestimate the better health outcomes from moderate alcohol consumption.