Saturday, September 17, 2011

Bars outnumber grocery stores in areas of high binge drinking

I love GOOD, but I also love being precise, so I felt compelled to acknowledge some of the mis-matched information in a post on Where Bars Outnumber Grocery Stores.

map of areas where bars outnumber grocery stores

The article presents a map of orange and red dots across the country, with red dots representing areas where bars outnumber grocery stores. The brief post concludes, "Here's the funny thing, though: This doesn't really correspond to where people drink the most."

First of all, the map of drinking across the country that "doesn't really correspond" is from 1996, and shows the Apparent Alcohol Consumption in Gallons of Ethanol for Population 14 Years and Older. Apparent alcohol consumption means the stats report the amount of alcohol purchased, so we can assume it was used for consumption and not for, I don't know, watering plants or something.

Looking back to the number of bars compared to grocery stores, the map's creator ( describes how the data represents the areas where bars outnumber grocery stores in the Google Maps directory as of August 2008 - so I don't know what you'd expect to find when comparing this information to apparent alcohol consumption in 1996.

I went looking for my own consumption maps for comparison, and I found that even the 2008-2009 data for Alcohol Use in Past Month among Persons Aged 12 or Older didn't quite fit. This could be because 12 year olds aren't allowed in bars (hopefully), and many grocery stores sell alcohol - so the number of bars is less relevant.

However, there was a map in the 2008-2009 data that lined up almost perfectly: Binge Alcohol Use in Past Month among Persons Aged 12 or Older. So, it appears binge drinking rates are more closely correlated to the relative number of bars vs. grocery stores than simply the amount of alcohol consumed, or percentage of drinkers in the area.

map of binge drinking by state

But which factor is influencing which? Are the number of binge drinkers creating a market for more bars to open, or are the number of bars creating communities with easy access and high visibility of alcohol?