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Alcohol backing raises risk of athletes drinking more

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2 July 2014

Alcohol sponsorship and hazardous drinking in UK athletes are linked, a new study has found.

The research, led by Monash University and the University of Manchester, is the first to examine alcohol sponsorship of athletes in the UK, and comes at a time when there are calls in Australia, New Zealand, UK, Ireland, and South Africa for greater restriction or bans on alcohol sponsorship and advertising in sport. The research was published today in the scientific journal Addiction.

The researchers surveyed more than 2000 sportspeople from universities in the North West, Midlands, London, and Southern regions of England. Most played community sport, and around one-third reported being sponsored by an alcohol-related industry such as a brewer or pub. 

Those sportspeople receiving alcohol sponsorship consumed more and had higher odds of hazardous drinking after accounting for factors such as type of sport played, age, gender, disposable income, and region. 

Alcohol consumption was found to be high in athletes overall. However, 50 per cent of those sponsored by an alcohol-related industry had scores on the World Health Organisation’s Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test that indicated the need for brief counselling and further monitoring of drinking, compared with 39 per cent of non-sponsored athletes. 

Associate Professor Kerry O’Brien from Monash University, who led the study, said it had been known for some time that excessive drinking is more common in young adults who play sport or are fans, but researchers are just starting to understand why. 

“Alcohol sponsorship (and the drinking culture it perpetuates) appears to be one of these reasons,” Associate Professor O’Brien said.

The study, funded by Alcohol Research UK, mirrors findings from countries such as Australia and New Zealand that have similar alcohol and sport sponsorship and advertising arrangements. However, the study went further by testing the alcohol industry’s argument that the effect of sponsorship on alcohol consumption may be unique to New Zealand or due to heavy drinkers seeking out alcohol sponsorship. The study results show that the effect of sponsorship on drinking remains after accounting for sponsorship seeking and other factors.

Associate Professor O’Brien said there was a perception in the community that social and health benefits of sport might be compromised by the use of sport for the promotion of alcohol.

“I think most people would agree that sport is an important marketing tool for the alcohol, gambling, and fast foods industries, in much the same way it was for tobacco," he said.

"Our study raises the question of whether sports that have such sponsorships and advertising might promote poorer health and social outcomes.”

To arrange an interview or for more information contact Glynis Smalley, Monash Media & Communications + 61 3 9903 4843 or 0408 027 848.

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