Health messages on alcohol labels ignored by young drinkers

Wednesday, 31 July, 2019

Health messages on alcohol labels ignored by young drinkers

A study published in the Journal of Public Health supports the debate around the design, effectiveness and regulation of alcohol labelling in the UK, revealing that only half of 11- to 19-year-old alcohol consumers recall seeing health messages on packaging.

The research, led by the University of Stirling and the Cancer Policy Research Centre at Cancer Research UK, investigated to what extent 11- to 19-year-olds were aware of product information, health messaging or warnings on alcohol packaging. Of those identified as ‘current drinkers’, only half recalled seeing such information, falling into one-third of the entire age group. This age group was analysed as exposure to clear and effective messaging during their formative drinking experiences could impact alcohol-related knowledge and attitudes.

Critics are calling for greater visibility, comprehension and effectiveness of labelling on alcohol packaging, with stringent labelling similar to that of nutritional labelling on food and drinks, or health warnings and messaging on tobacco products.

Dr Nathan Critchlow, Research Fellow in Stirling’s Institute for Social Marketing (ISM), led the study, with ISM colleagues Dr Crawford Moodie, Dr Niamh Fitzgerald, Anne Marie MacKintosh and Daniel Jones, alongside Chris Thomas, Jyotsna Vohra and Lucie Hooper, of the Cancer Policy Research Centre at Cancer Research UK.

The study, “explored awareness of such information and differences between population groups and different levels of alcohol consumption, such as whether a young person currently drank alcohol or not”, Dr Critchlow said.

Recall of specific messages among 11- to 19-year-olds was low, with half of young people unsure what messages they had seen and most specific messages only recalled by a minority of young people. Only half of current drinkers aged 11–19 were aware of such messaging, despite being an important target market for this information.

Another key concern regarding alcohol packaging and labelling is that labels don’t highlight the risk between alcohol and cancer. “Alcohol is linked to seven types of cancer in adults and is responsible for over 12,000 cases annually, yet only one in 10 people are aware of this risk,” said co-author Dr Jyotsna Vohra.

The Scottish government and the Republic of Ireland are considering mandatory labelling if the alcohol industry does not improve the visibility and clarity of their labels by September 2019, with Stirling University’s latest research providing timely insights to inform these debates.

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