Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer (CBRC), Victoria

Prevalence of drinking behaviours among Australian secondary students in 2014

The Australian Secondary Students’ Alcohol and Drug (ASSAD) survey, conducted triennially since 1984, is a collaboration between Cancer Councils in Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania and South Australia as well as Commonwealth and state and territory health departments. Led by A/Prof Vicki White, around 23,000 students aged 12 to 17 years from 352 schools participated in the study in 2014. Two of every three Australian secondary students aged between 12 and 17 years had tried alcohol at some time in their lives (68%) and just under half had consumed alcohol in the past year (45%). Drinking became more common as students progressed through secondary school, with 36% of 17 year-olds drinking in the past seven days (current drinkers) compared to four percent of 12 year-olds. Nine percent of 16 year-olds and 17% of 17 year-olds reported drinking five or more drinks on at least one of the past seven days. Students who drank in the past seven days most commonly accessed alcohol from their parents (38%), drank alcohol at a party (35%) or at home (31%) and most commonly consumed premixed spirits (35%). In the past year, 61% of current drinkers experienced at least one negative outcome from drinking (e.g. vomiting, arguing, trying drugs). In 2014, the proportion of students ever drinking (68%) was significantly lower than in 2011 (74%) and 2008 (82%). The proportion of current drinkers decreased between 2008 (23%) and 2014 (15%) and between 2011 (17%) and 2014. The full ASSAD report is available online.

Can systematically developed alcohol health warning labels reduce drinking intentions and behaviours?

Alcohol use ranks among the top five contributors to global disease burden, yet the public has relatively poor awareness of the wide range and seriousness of alcohol-related harms. Health warning labels on alcohol containers have the potential to address knowledge deficits and reduce drinking intentions and behaviours. Despite strong public support for warning labels and WHO and government reports recommending them, a lack of robust evidence has hindered policy implementation. Professor Melanie Wakefield and colleagues have been awarded a National Health and Medical Research Council Project Grant to assess the content and design of alcohol warning labels with the greatest potential to encourage drinkers to reduce their alcohol-related risk. The project will use health communication principles and a pre-testing approach adapted from developing effective tobacco warning labels. A population survey will determine the 16 alcohol harms linked to lower-risk drinking intentions and behaviours which have the greatest potential for improving awareness. The second study will pre-test the 16 selected harm topics to determine the strongest eight and identify which image options and linguistic devices (personal agency, hedging) improve persuasive potential. The final study uses an experimental approach to compare effects on drinking intentions and behaviours of repeated point-of-sale exposure to alcohol containers with a) text only or b) text and image warning labels against two control groups representing the usual situation c) no label and d) alcohol-industry funded DrinkWise warning labels. The findings will greatly strengthen the evidence base available for policy deliberations.

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