Alcohol is a major public health problem. In the UK, there were 8,416 deaths and over a million hospital admissions due to alcohol in 2013. Treating alcohol-related problems costs the NHS approximately £3.5 billion a year.
Internationally, a common approach to reducing alcohol consumption is to publish low risk drinking guidelines (DG). These aim to tell the public about the risks of drinking above a particular amount of alcohol and encourage healthier drinking behaviours. DG are promoted in various ways including TV advertising campaigns, putting information on bottle labels and by doctors discussing drinking with their patients.
Despite their widespread use, little is known about whether promoting DG affects people’s behaviour or how they think about alcohol. Research opportunities are rare as DG are not updated very often and the last UK revisions occurred in 1995. However, in 2012, the UK Government’s Alcohol Strategy announced that the country’s DG would be reviewed. That review is on-going and new DG may be published in early 2016.
We propose to evaluate what impact promoting the new DG has on the alcohol consumption of adults living in England. We will also examine whether there are any impacts on the way people think about alcohol (e.g. their knowledge of the risks of heavy drinking or how motivated they feel to drink less). The way people think about alcohol is important as changing this may be a first step to changing behaviour.
Information on the impacts of promoting revised DG will come from survey data collected each month between March 2014 and October 2017. We will examine whether there are changes over time in how much people drink or in the way they think about alcohol. We will also collect data on which activities promoting the DG occur using interviews with people like NHS managers, Public Health England and alcohol charities. This information will be used to examine whether promotional activities coincide with changes in the survey data.
A discussion group of adult drinkers from the general public has been established by the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies. This group will be asked to contribute to the project by, for example, advising on survey questions and suggesting additional areas for research based on the guidelines that are published and the promotional activity that occurs. The discussion group will also be asked to contribute to the interpretation of findings and identifying the key messages which should be communicated from the project.
The results of the study will help governments when making decisions about which alcohol policies are most effective in improving public health. People running campaigns promoting public health guidance will also benefit by learning about the effects of different types of guidance.
The results of the study will be communicated to a wide range of people by publishing papers in scientific journals and presenting to national and international conferences attended by different groups who may be interested (including the general public). We will make particular efforts to ensure people who promote public health guidance hear about the project so they can use the findings when designing promotional material. Finally, our research team has a strong track record in attracting news coverage of our work which helps the general public to hear about it. We will work with Sheffield’s media team to promote our findings to journalists.