Don’t let Miami’s worldwide status as a party destination fool you: Miami-Dade County is home to some of the lowest drinking rates in Florida, according to a study published Thursday by the University of Washington.
According to the report from the university’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which tracked drinking patterns at the county level, rates of heavy drinking in Miami-Dade decreased between 2005 and 2012, the years analyzed by the survey. The institute surveyed more than 3 million people across the country by home and cell phone. The survey did not include tourists, a possible factor in Miami-Dade’s numbers.
In Florida overall, heavy drinking rose by an average of 7.9 percent in that period but decreased in Miami-Dade by 0.7 percent.
In 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, 53.3 percent of Miami-Dade residents had at least one drink a month, ranking the county 36th out of Florida’s 67 counties. The county ranked 41st in binge drinking, with about 16 percent of those surveyed engaging in the behavior — four drinks in one occurrence for women and five drinks for men.
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In heavy drinking, Miami-Dade was almost dead last in 2012 — ranking 66th in the state — with 5.7 percent of respondents reporting drinking heavily, or at least one drink a day for women and at least two daily for men.
The numbers raised eyebrows among some who expected South Beach’s nightlife scene to catapult the county to the top of the list.
“It does surprise me,” said Janet Mondshein, executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s Miami branch. “I don’t think we’ve seen less incidents of drinking, or less incidents of drinking and driving.”
The numbers represent a countywide average, said Ali Mokdad, the lead author on the survey and a professor of global health at the University of Washington, so certain areas in the county may be experiencing higher alcohol consumption rates than others.
Socio-economic factors and an availability of programs to dispel dangerous drinking behaviors can affect a county’s drinking environment, Mokdad said.
And Miami-Dade has performed better in all health outcomes over time, he noted, which can help lower drinking rates.
MADD’s Mondshein said resources like the Miami Coalition for a Safe and Drug-Free Community and Informed Families, a nonprofit support group to battle substance abuse, as well as a network of rehabilitation programs are available in the community to promote healthier lifestyles.
The survey’s lead author, Mokdad, said that nationwide, counties with a network of support tend to rank lower, despite an active nightlife scene.
Still, Miami-Dade did see an increase in some categories, such as binge drinking.
Binge drinking grew at a higher rate than other drinking behaviors between 2005 and 2012, with 5.4 percent more Floridians engaging in binge drinking and 6.3 percent more in Miami-Dade — ranking it 23rd in the state.
Still, the numbers were comparatively low. The number of Floridians who had at least one drink a month rose by about 0.5 during the the survey period, while in Miami-Dade County it rose by 1.7 percent more, ranking the county 32nd.
By comparison, Monroe County — home to the Florida Keys including Key West — had some of the highest rates in the state. In 2012, it consistently ranked in the top three counties in the state for the most incidents of drinking, heavy drinking and binge drinking.
“If your bars are very close to each other and they open later, what happens is that these people go from one to another,” Mokdad said. The proximity of bars to one another, not the number of bars in a county, has a greater effect on drinking rates.
In May, Miami Beach City Commission will consider a proposal from Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine to reduce alcohol consumption on Ocean Drive, banning alcohol sales at sidewalk cafes, patios and outdoor bars between 2 and 8 a.m.
At a commission meeting last month, Levine said Ocean Drive has become an area that requires a large amount of police resources to keep safe. Limiting the sale of alcohol, which now is sold until 5 a.m., will make that job easier.
“This is being contemplated to reduce crime, clean up Ocean Drive, project our global Miami Beach brand and maintain the quality of life of our residents and keep our destination safe for tourists and families,” Levine said in an email.
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This story was produced in collaboration with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation