A minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) of 21 has been linked to a number of benefits, including a lower risk for alcoholism in adulthood, researchers said.

However, no studies have examined linkages between exposure to MLDAs during young adulthood and mortality later in life.

This study examined if young adults - college and non-college students - exposed to a permissive MLDA (younger than 21) had a higher risk of death from alcohol-related chronic diseases compared to those exposed to an MLDA of 21.

Scientists from Research Society on Alcoholism combined and analysed data from 1990 to 2010 US Multiple Cause of Death files as well as data on census and community populations.

Individuals who turned 18 during the years from 1967-1990 were included, as this was the time period during which MLDA varied across states.

Researchers also examined records on death from several alcohol-related chronic diseases such as liver disease and alcohol-related cancers.

The findings indicate that an MLDA of 21 seems to protect against risk of death from alcohol-related chronic disease across the lifespan, at least for those who have not attended college, researchers said.

Individuals who did report college attendance appeared to derive no benefits from the MLDA of 21. Researchers feel this may be due to higher levels of binge drinking on college campuses, a campus environment that insulates against policies aimed at curbing underage drinking, and a culture that promotes drinking to excess.

The findings were published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

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