With sport firmly back on Australians’ television screens as the AFL season restarts this Thursday, Monash researchers have highlighted the continuing problem of children’s exposure to alcohol advertising when watching sport.
Researchers from the Behavioural Sciences Research Laboratory in the Faculty of Arts at Monash University say children and young people exposed to alcohol advertising and sponsorship have an earlier uptake of drinking and can develop more hazardous drinking habits.
A major partner of the AFL is Carlton Draught and other sponsors include bourbon brand Jim Beam and wine label Wolf Blass.
Carlton United Breweries, which produces Carlton Draught, has had a longstanding partnership with the VFL/AFL and is in the tailend of a 10-year contract signed in 2012.
Monash researchers Dr Brian Vandenberg and Professor Kerry O’Brien this week issued their findings, detailed in the Report on the extent, nature, and consequences of children and young people’s exposure to alcohol advertising and sponsorship.
Originally prepared for the Federal Government, the report examined all available evidence on the nature and extent of alcohol advertising and sponsorship in Australia and the impact of children and young people’s exposure to it on their drinking behaviour and attitudes.
It also made a number of recommendations to the government and sport industry to address alcohol harm in the community.
Examining 30 years of data from 40 peer reviewed empirical studies involving 100,000 children from Australia, New Zealand, Europe, the US and the UK, the researchers found studies consistently showed more frequent exposure led to an earlier age initiation of alcohol use in non-drinkers.
For those who were already drinking, it led to more problematic alcohol attitudes and associated drinking behaviours in adulthood.
Australian studies also suggested that children are frequently exposed to alcohol advertising and sponsorship throughout their day, with sport both the leading and most influential single entertainment genre.
Current advertising regulations in Australia allow alcohol messages in sport at most times of the day and children are much more exposed to alcohol advertising and sponsorship messages when watching sport.
Monash research found Australian children and adolescents experience more than 50 million exposures to alcohol advertisements each year while watching footy and cricket.
Other countries have stricter alcohol advertising and sponsorship regulations, the report outlined, and subsequently have lower rates of hazardous drinking.
Dr Vandenberg said several studies in Australia showed widespread public support for stricter regulations or bans on alcohol advertising and sponsorship, particularly in sport.
“Data shows the prevalence of underage drinking is much higher than other substances such as tobacco or cannabis,” he said. “Combined with the short and long-term health consequences of alcohol use at a young age, it makes sense to protect younger people from the harmful effects of alcohol marketing.
“The more alcohol advertising a young person is exposed to, the more at risk they are of taking up drinking and using alcohol in a harmful way. There is a clear dose-response effect.”
Professor O’Brien said: “Alcohol sponsorship of sport in Australia is in effect unregulated. This is problematic given its ubiquitous nature. Stronger restrictions on alcohol advertising during sport TV programming would dramatically reduce children’s exposure and associated harms.
“Similar to tobacco and cigarettes, a ban on alcohol advertising would support a change in drinking culture and norms, and funding for sport, particularly grassroots sport, could be replaced by more stable and guaranteed tax revenue from the sales of alcohol.”
The report showed the majority of Australians (approximately 70 per cent) and particularly parents (80 per cent) supported stronger restrictions on alcohol advertising and sponsorship.
Dr Vandenberg and Professor O’Brien have also explored alcohol advertising and sponsorship further in this piece published on Monash Lens.