Marketing efforts of alcohol producers are often aimed at younger drinkers and lead to hazardous drinking behavior and health damage. This was the consensus of five experts at a panel discussion on ‘Alcohol, Chronic Noncommunicable Diseases and Public Health’ held on the second of May at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). The discussion focused on alcohol marketing, patterns of consumption, alcohol-related health problems, and public health action to mitigate alcohol’s harmful effects, with emphasis on noncommunicable diseases in the Americas.
Partaking in the discussion where Maristela Monteiro, PAHO senior advisor on alcohol and substance abuse, Patrice Vaeth, assistant professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health, Jurgen Rehm of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, Canada, David Jernigan, associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Thomas Babor, professor of community medicine and public health at the University of Connecticut medical school.
Despite claims of the contrary by the alcohol industry, many alcohol advertisements are particularly and deliberately aimed at youngsters. Additionally certain products like “alcopops,” alcohol energy drinks, and whipped cream alcohol drinks are disproportionally purchased by youths. Problematically from a health standpoint is that some of these drinks contain the equivalent of as much as five servings of alcohol in a single can. What is worse, Jernigan added, is that younger age groups are much more likely to consume large quantities of alcohol in short time spans. This significantly increases the risk of injuries and ill health effects.
According to Jernigan, young people in the U.S. are not drinking a glass of wine with their parents at dinner, they are drinking to become intoxicated.
Rehm added that the problems are particularly bad in the Americas as a region, where alcohol consumption on average is more than 50 percent higher than worldwide consumption. Rehm also pointed out the prevalence of irregular heavy drinking as a drinking pattern, and added that this is the most harmful type of consumption. He went on to say that such patterns cancel out any protective effects that moderate drinking may have on heart disease.
Monteiro focused on the globalization of alcohol production and marketing, which have contributed to a steady growth in alcohol consumption in the Americas. She also mentioned the problems that many Latin American countries face because of a lack of strong policies on sale and marketing of alcohol.
Babor went through the most effective policies and tools aimed at reducing consumption and improving treatment. Among these, he mentioned controls on marketing and the availability of alcohol as well as screening and ‘brief interventions’ incorporated into primary healthcare services.