Half of Young Drinkers Unaware of Health Risks on Alcohol Labels

Half of Young Drinkers Are Unaware of the Potential Health Risks on Alcohol Labels

New research performed by the University of Stirling and the Cancer Policy Research Center at Cancer Research U.K. has found that about half of young drinkers are unaware of health messages or warnings on alcohol packaging. Published this past month in the Journal of Public Health, the study focused on those between the ages 11 and 19 and if this age group was aware of product information that cautions against consuming more than 14 unites of alcohol per week and drinking when pregnant due to health risks.

The study used data from the 2017 Youth Alcohol Policy Survey. Participants were asked whether they had seen any health messages or warnings on alcohol packaging in the past month and, if so, what messages they recalled.

Of those that identified themselves as “current drinkers,” 47% said that they recalled no health messages – answering “don’t know.” For recalling one health message, the figure was 41% but then dropped to 9% for those who could recall two warnings. The number fell again to 2% for three pieces of information and just 1% – five respondents – recalled four health messages.

These results are particularly troubling to researchers as this age demographic is already at an increased risk for dangerous drinking behaviors, such as binge drinking. If the majority of this age group is unaware of the potential health risks, it could promote excessive alcohol use. Both in the U.K. and around the world, young people are experiencing the consequences of drinking too much, at too early an age.

Researchers are advocating for better and more clear messaging on alcohol products, maintaining that exposure to labeling that details the potential risks during formative drinking years could have a sustained impact on alcohol-related knowledge, attitudes, and behavior.

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What This Means for Future Alcohol Labeling

This is the first study to examine awareness surrounding alcohol messaging and recall of labeling in a large and demographically representative sample of young people across the U.K. Experts believe these findings support the need to redefine the design, effectiveness, and regulation of alcohol labeling in the U.K.

Dr Nathan Critchlow, Research Fellow in Stirling’s Institute for Social Marketing (ISM), led the study. He said: “In the UK and internationally, there are frequent calls to increase the visibility, comprehension and effectiveness of labeling on alcohol packaging. In particular, critics often point to the statutory steps taken for nutritional labelling on food and drinks, or health warnings and messaging on tobacco products, and ask why alcohol labelling – which is self-regulated by the industry – is not as progressive.”

Beyond the fact that children are drinking underage, it’s worrying that only half can recall seeing important health warnings.

- Co-Author Dr. Jyotsna Vohra, Cancer Research UK’s Head of Cancer Policy Research

What is particularly concerning is that many of these labels don’t give all the information that the Chief Medical Officer requires, including the correlation between alcohol and cancer. Dr. Vohra believes this risk must be highlighted on labeling, as “the more a person drinks, the greater their risk of cancer.” Alcohol is linked to seven types of cancer in adults and is responsible for over 12,000 cases in the U.K. annually, yet only 1 in 10 people are aware of this risk.

Researchers are hoping this study will encourage the reformation of alcohol labeling both in the U.K. and internationally.

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