With the fight against tobacco all but over, leading health campaigners have switched their attention to the alcohol industry, urging for confronting images and messages to be included on all alcoholic beverages in Australia, Sara Coen writes.
Health warning labels will be added to alcohol products and advertisements by January 2014 if the federal government adopts a recommendation by a parliamentary inquiry into foetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
The inquiry recently called for independent studies into how alcohol marketing impacts young people’s consumption levels, with the view to tightening the regulation of alcohol sales.
The underlying premise is that the introduction of warning labels will increase consumer awareness about the harmful effects of alcohol, thereby modifying harmful drinking behaviours. Australia does not currently require warning labels on alcohol products, putting it out of step with many other countries.
Given the potential persuasive power of labels, as well as the rising social costs of alcoholism in the United States (US), government mandated warning labels were enforced and have appeared on all alcoholic beverages in the US since 1989.
The commencement of this warning label system reportedly brought about an increased awareness of the risks of excessive alcohol use among consumers in the US.
As a result, more than 20 other countries have followed this lead introducing mandated warning labels – including Brazil, France, India, Portugal, South Africa, Korea, Thailand, and Zimbabwe. With many health researchers and policy makers urging the Australian government to mandate warning labels on alcoholic beverages, it is timely to consider the possible impact of such measures, particularly among the most vulnerable to alcohol-related harm, such as adolescents.
Research examining the potential impact of mandatory alcohol warning labels has been limited in Australia; and thus has had little impact in guiding efforts for policy development.
Australian Catholic University’s (ACU) School of Psychology Senior Proven Researcher Team, led by Professor Sheryl Hemphill, is conducting research into the effectiveness of alcohol warning labels on alcohol-related beliefs and behaviours among adolescents.
Victorian researcher Dr Kirsty Scholes- Balog is leading the collaborative research study, together with Professor Hemphill and Dr Jessica Heerde. Professor Hemphill said that in Australia there is a culture among young people to drink to levels far in excess of those recommended.
“Research suggests that young people have a different alcohol-related risk profile to older alcohol users, with adolescents more likely to experience harms such as alcohol-related violence and injuries,” she said.
In 2008, the Australian Secondary Students Alcohol and Drugs Survey found that 60 per cent of students aged 12-17 had consumed alcohol in their lifetime, while almost 30 per cent were classified as risky drinkers.
ACU’s current study, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, – Alcohol warning labels: unlikely to affect alcohol-related beliefs and behaviours in adolescents – is a review of research examining the impact of alcohol warning labels on adolescent drinking, knowledge and behaviour.
Initial findings indicate that the introduction of alcohol warning labels in Australia may increase awareness about the risks of alcohol consumption among adolescents – however these labels appear unlikely to change adolescent drinking behaviours or beliefs about alcohol related risks.
Dr Scholes-Balog said that further research in multiple cultural contexts was required to confirm the initial findings.
“It is clear from our review there is an urgent need for further research on the impact of alcohol warning labels given that much of the research so far has been conducted in the US by one research group,” she said.
“Further,a range of preventive health policies must be implemented, particularly targeting adolescents and young people, in order to address the issues associated with alcohol misuse – however alcohol warning labels should be considered as only one aspect of a range of other evidence-based strategies to change knowledge, attitudes and behaviour,” Dr Scholes-Balog said.
ACU RESEARCH OPPORTUNITIES
ACU offers a wide range of opportunities to undertake supervised research at either masters or doctoral level. As well as the general Master of Philosophy and Doctor of Philosophy degrees, ACU also offers some discipline specific research higher degrees.
Opportunities can be searched on the ACU website, via Research Expertise Register (ReXR).
ACU POSTGRADUATE RESEARCH SCHOLARSHIPS
Postgraduate research scholarships are available at ACU. Applicants are assessed on academic merit and research experience. ACU postgraduate scholarships include:
- Australian Postgraduate Award
- International Postgraduate Research Scholarship
- ACU Postgraduate Award
- Senior Proven Research Team and Centre Scholarships
- Indigenous Scholarships
- ACU Student Completion Scholarship
- Endeavour Awards
- External Scholarships and Bursaries Scholarships may also be available through Schools and Faculties or external sources.
You can find more information online at:
- JASON – an Australian postgraduate scholarship database,
- Australian Awards – an initiative of the Australian Government that promotes development in the Asia-Pacific region,
- AusAID – for students from developing countries.
For more information visit the ACU research website.