How do alcohol control policies influence Australian adolescent drinking trends?
Longitudinal research study
One of the key findings of this report is that the risky drinking of adolescents can be reduced by restricting youth access to alcohol, reducing the availability of alcohol and reducing television advertising,” lead author Dr Victoria White said.
The study emphasises the important role of government-led, population-directed policies in cutting the strings on alcohol inducements that pull our young generations towards problem [alcohol use].”
The research study was led by the Cancer Council of Victoria and funded by National Health & Medical Research Council Partnership Project, the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) and VicHealth.
This is the first Australian study to examine how changes in several factors contributing to a community’s social environment may influence adolescents’ consumption of alcohol. This study details trends in the ‘push factors’ – retail outlet density, advertising, negatively-framed newspaper articles and control policies – on the ‘past-month/week alcohol use’ and ‘risky alcohol use’ of adolescents.
The study then examines the relationship between trends in these different factors and Australian adolescents’ alcohol use to identify factors that may have played a role in the changing prevalence of alcohol use among Australian adolescents.
Population-based policies that attempt to restrict the availability of alcohol, reduce youth access to alcohol, and reduce alcohol advertising on television may contribute to reductions in youth alcohol consumption.
Alcohol outlet density:
- Taking into account adult population increases, the density of alcohol outlets per 10,000 adults generally decreased during the eleven year period 1999-2011.
The researchers found that greater density of alcohol outlets in an adolescent’s local area was positively related to both past-month alcohol use and risky alcohol consumption. The study suggests higher alcohol outlet density increases the likelihood of Australian adolescents engaging in past-month alcohol use and risky alcohol consumption.
Alcohol advertising expenditure:
- The media channels used to advertise alcohol, and the specific alcohol products advertised changed between 1997 and 2011, with a decrease in expenditure on television advertising coinciding with an increase in newspaper advertising expenditure, and a shift from beer advertising to retailer marketing.
The decrease in free-to-air television advertising expenditure may reflect a move to other methods of promotion such as social media, sports sponsorship, point-of-sale advertising and paid advertising at sports events.
Alcohol advertising on television:
- Reflecting the decrease in alcohol advertising expenditure directed at television, adolescents’ potential exposure to alcohol TV advertising decreased over the study period. The decrease may reflect a change in the marketing strategy of alcohol beverage companies, from TV to greater use of other advertising channels including the internet and sponsorships.
The study shows that adolescents were exposed to a significant number of alcohol advertisements each month. The researchers found that alcohol product advertising on television (TV) was positively related to risky youth alcohol use.
The findings suggest that self-regulation of alcohol advertising on TV is not sufficient to stop adolescents from being exposed to these advertisements.
Alcohol in Australian newspapers:
- The number of alcohol-related articles in major daily Australian newspapers more than doubled between 2000 and 2011. However, the content of these articles broadened from mainly promoting alcohol by industry spokespeople to include messages from health advocates about policy/restrictions and responsible beverage service.
Alcohol control policies:
- Across four states, policy in the areas of trading hours, youth access and drink driving strengthened over the 11-year period. Adoption of policies occurred at different rates, with the greatest increase seen the drink driving domain and the smallest increase seen in the trading hours domain.
The researchers found that after adjusting for the influence of alcohol advertising and alcohol outlet density, stronger policy in the areas of trading hours and youth access reduced the likelihood of past-month alcohol use and past-week risky alcohol consumption respectively.
The different alcohol policy and social environment variables influenced students’ alcohol consumption behaviours differently. Greater potential exposure to alcohol advertising on television, to alcohol outlets, and greater prevalence of adult alcohol use, increased the likelihood of adolescents alcohol consumption in the past month.
Students were less likely to use alcohol if they were exposed to environments with a greater level of negative alcohol newspaper stories. Stronger policies restricting alcohol outlet trading hours reduced the likelihood of an adolescent using alcohol in the past month, while stronger policies restricting youth access to alcohol reduced the likelihood of risky alcohol consumption.