By David Beasley
ATLANTA (Reuters) - Binge drinking contributes to the deaths of about 12,000 women and girls annually in the United States and is a problem that gets overlooked despite causing a long list of health risks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday.
The federal health agency found that one in every eight women and one in five high school girls reports binge drinking, which for females is defined as consuming four or more alcoholic drinks in a short time.
About twice as many men than women binge drink, but the health risks are different for women and the dangers of their behavior draw less attention, CDC Director Thomas Frieden told reporters.
"Binge drinking is an under-recognized women's health issue," Frieden said in a conference call on the new report. "Women tend to be smaller and therefore are more susceptible to the harms of alcohol at lower levels of drinking."
Binge drinking can increase a woman's risk of breast cancer, heart disease, unintentional pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and auto accidents, he said.
CDC scientists reviewed data collected on the drinking behaviors of approximately 278,000 women aged 18 and older, as well as 7,500 high school girls in 2011.
The report estimated that nearly 14 million U.S. women binge drink about three times a month, consuming an average of six drinks during each binge. Half of all high school girls who consume alcohol reported binge drinking, the CDC said.
The excessive use of alcohol is most common among white and Hispanic women, those aged 18-34, high school girls and women with household incomes of more than $75,000, the CDC said.
Underage women and those who are pregnant should not drink at all, the CDC said. Other women are advised not to have more than one alcoholic drink per day.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins Cynthia Johnston and Dan Grebler)