SANTA CLARA, Calif. ­- Not only is binge drinking more common in Minnesota and Wisconsin than in the rest of the nation, but it's also more common in St. Louis and Douglas counties than in the rest of their respective states.

So reveals data from a first­-of-­its-­kind county-­by-­county analysis of drinking statistics from across the U.S.

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The study on drinking patterns from 2002-­12 prepared for the American Journal of Public Health was released here on Thursday as part of Health Journalism 2015, an annual conference of the Association of Health Care Journalists.

Overall, the data show binge drinking is increasing in the U.S., and it's increasing more among females than among males, said Ali Mokdad of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

That contributes to a decreasing life expectancy for females in dozens of counties, Mokdad suggested.

"Compared to (other) wealthy nations, we are falling behind," he said, regarding life expectancy for women.

Data used for the study were obtained from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, an annual telephone survey conducted by state health departments.

The data show a huge disparity in drinking habits among counties in the U.S. and even within states, Mokdad said.

The study shows a binge-drinking rate for St. Louis County in 2012 of 26.7 percent, compared with a state average of 23.6 percent and a national average of 18.3 percent. The binge-drinking rates were 34.3 percent for males and 19.3 percent for females.

Over the decade, binge drinking increased by 1.6 percent in the county, but all of that increase came from females. The rate for males actually decreased by 0.5 percent, while it went up for females by 3.7 percent.

Douglas County numbers were similar: 31.9 percent of county residents reported binge drinking compared with 26.1 percent statewide. The rate increased by 2.1 percent over the decade, but again, the rate among males actually went down by 1.5 percent. It was up among females by 5.5 percent.

Carlton and Lake counties also had higher rates of binge drinking than Minnesota as a whole. In Cook County, the rate was 21.7 percent ­- lower than the Minnesota average but still about 3 points higher than the U.S. as a whole.

Mokdad, who previously worked with health data for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said alcohol use has followed a similar pattern as tobacco use followed earlier:

Men were quicker to embrace tobacco use than women, but tobacco use by men peaked sooner. Generally, though, heavy and binge drinking by males hasn't yet reached a peak, he said.

Problem drinking behaviors create both short-­term and long-­term health risks, Mokdad said. Among the latter: high blood pressure, some kinds of cancer, learning and memory problems and mental health problems. "It's a costly disease and expensive to treat," he said.

Menominee County, Wis., had the highest prevalence of binge drinking in the country at 36 percent, he said. Madison County, Idaho, had the lowest at 5.9 percent.

To learn more

An interactive map showing drinking patterns across the country can be found at www.healthdata.org.

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