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Unrealistic Health Campaigns

Monday, January 5th, 2009 Unrealistic Health Campaigns

Two worthy reports surrounding young revellers ignoring alcohol campaigns are very topical.

Firstly, health campaigns warning of the dangers of alcohol are being ignored by many young people who see binge drinking as acceptable.

A study by Birmingham and Bath universities suggests the government must stop “demonising” young people in its attempts to promote safe drinking, with reference to a BBC article (28 12 08).

The study found that adverts such as this year’s Home Office £4m anti-binge-drinking campaign, were viewed as “laughably unrealistic” in the way they portrayed binge drinking.

The TV images showed young people injuring themselves, being violent and smearing vomit in their hair.

The research, which was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, concluded that young people did not recognise their own drinking patterns in adverts which took a negative stance.

The young people did, however, identify with adverts which promoted alcohol as a fun, social habit.

Researchers interviewed 89 people in England aged 18-25 over a period of three years.

They argue that ministers will have to re-think health campaigns if they are to have any kind of meaningful impact.

The project found that alcohol played a significant part in forming a “group identity” and that drinking and alcohol-related stories played an “important role” in binding different social groups together.

Professor Christian Griffin, who led the research team, urged the government to take action.

She said: “Top of my list would have to be to stop demonising and making generalisations about young people and their drinking. We also need to listen and incorporate their views and perspectives.”

Significantly, the researchers carried out in-depth interviews in three unspecified locations in England.

These included a major city centre in the Midlands with a wide ranging population, a seaside town, and a small market town in the West Country with a more homogenous population and fewer places to drink.

It focused on how adverts and other marketing practices shaped people’s attitudes to drinking and included the analysis of 216 alcohol adverts, both in print and broadcast form.

Notwithstanding, adverts which highlighted that drinking was a “cool” habit and a form of “calculated hedonism” did appeal to and influence the audience.

The researchers identified that participants discussed the harm, risks and pleasures of drinking but this was set firmly within a culture of “drinking to excess”, which they described as a form of “fun”.

According to Professor Isabelle Szmigin, who assisted the study states that “For young people, drinking is very much a part of their social life but we feel that a lot of the government literature tends to present a picture of it being an individual responsibility rather than a social one.

“Young people do engage with the idea of responsible drinking but far more from the social side. They ensure there are designated drivers; people looking out for each other and that their friends are safe.”

However, with reference to Don Shenker of Alcohol Concern, he argues “The type of messages around drinking for young people need to be much more focused on the short-term aspects - things like being a victim of a crime, ending up in hospital due to intoxication, the way that alcohol affects your looks for example”.

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