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Tackling Australia’s binge drinking problem

5 Mar 2014, by Informa Insights

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Binge drinking has been a hotly debated topic in Australia over recent weeks.

New South Wales enforced new laws to curb binge drinking on Monday (February 24) following media exposure of ‘one-punch’ assaults that have left a number of people dead.

Researchers state that 90 deaths between 2000 and 2012 are attributable to these attacks, which cause the victim to die after an initial blow to the head or the subsequent impact with the ground. Alcohol was a factor in nearly three-quarters of incidents.

The NSW government brought in measures that banned takeaway alcohol sales after 10​ pm and enforced lockouts in hotels, clubs and bars after 1:30​ am in Sydney’s CBD and King’s Cross precincts.

Businesses will also be prevented from selling alcohol after 3​ am in selected venues.

NSW premier Barry O’Farrell said the legislation will help to tackle alcohol abuse across the state and reduce violent crime.

“The NSW government makes no apologies for these tough measures – businesses and patrons will need to adjust to the changes because improving the safety and amenity of the CBD is in everyone’s interests,” he explained.

Closing an alcohol ‘loophole’

The implementation of new NSW laws coincides with the release of a new draft report addressing alcohol advertising in the country.

The Australian National Preventative Health Agency (ANPHA) paper said the current system of self-regulation is not working and could be exposing adolescents to unnecessary alcohol marketing.

According to the organisation, this advertising may be influencing the nation’s youngsters, leading to “harmful” drinking tendencies as they get older.

Among ANHPA’s recommendations is the removal of an exemption in the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice that allows direct advertising of alcohol before 8:30​ pm during live sporting events on weekends and public holidays.

The Australian Greens and the Australian Medical Association (AMA) have both supported the recommendations.

Greens health spokesperson Dr Richard Di Natale said: “We have long argued that we must close the bizarre loophole that allows grog to be promoted during live sport, even if that is during kids’ viewing time.”

AMA president Dr Steve Hambleton echoed these comments, claiming the amount of alcohol marketing reaching children is “extraordinary”.

“Let’s begin to fix the alcohol misuse in this country by starting with our children,” he stated.

A wider focus

While binge drinking among the nation’s youth has dominated the headlines, new Roy Morgan Research suggests the problem affects a wider demographic.

The National Health and Medical Research Council defines binge drinking as consuming too much alcohol in one sitting. This is classified as five or more standard alcoholic drinks on one occasion.

Anyone who drinks 35 or more drinks in a week is also considered a binge drinker.

Using these guidelines, Roy Morgan found the biggest problem group appears to be men aged between 50 and 64. A sizable 8 per cent of men in this group drank more than 35 glasses of alcohol over a seven-day period, compared with less than one per cent of women in the same demographic.

For men and women aged between 35 and 49, 5.9 per cent and 1.2 per cent respectively were considered binge drinkers.

In fact, figures for 18 to 24-year-olds showed binge drinking in this age range was lower than the national average. Both men and women aged over 65 were more likely to be binge drinkers.

The health implications of binge drinking

Roy Morgan’s Alere Wellness Index tracks the health of the nation and it showed binge drinkers are more prone to obesity and smoking. They also have a higher incidence of medical conditions and poor nutrition.

Geoffrey Smith, general manager of consumer products at the organisation, said: “Excessive alcohol consumption creates problems for the public, the police and the health system.”
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Mr Smith noted that while there is a gradual decline in the number of Australian adults who binge drink, current approaches may not be efficiently targeting problem areas.

“Curfews on admission to clubs and time restrictions around calls for last drinks will have little effect on the majority of binge drinkers, who are aged over 35 and generally less likely to go out clubbing and pubbing til the wee hours,” he stated.

Roy Morgan advised careful analysis of its data to better target problem demographics. For example, people belonging to competitive middle-class suburbs are the most likely to binge drink.

These individuals watch a lot of commercial and paid television and listen to the radio regularly, the organisation said. As such, TV ad campaigns have a higher chance of success for this group than newspaper marketing.

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