Anywhere, anytime: New Zealand children’s exposure to alcohol marketing

Innovative camera research has revealed that New Zealand children are exposed to alcohol marketing on average 4.5 times per day. The collaborative research by the Universities of Otago and Auckland, found children were exposed to alcohol marketing in places such as the home, licensed outlets, and sports venues via a number of ways of promotion such as sports sponsorship, merchandise and shopfront signage.

Furthermore, Māori and Pacific children had five and three times higher rates of exposure to alcohol marketing than New Zealand European children, respectively. Disparities are mainly attributed to higher rates of exposure via off-licence outlets and sports sponsorship for Māori children.

“The study found that children were exposed to alcohol marketing via sports sponsorship every day. Alcohol companies’ sponsorship of sport led to the exposure of children to alcohol marketing in their homes, on their clothing, and in traditional health promoting environments such as sports venues,” says lead researcher Tim Chambers, from the University of Otago, Wellington.

“This research provides further evidence of the need for legislative restrictions on alcohol marketing, specifically, ending industry self-regulation of alcohol marketing, banning alcohol sponsorship of sport, and increasing restrictions on alcohol outlet shopfronts,” says Mr Chambers, a research fellow in the Department of Public Health.

“Marketing on screens and product packaging was not included in the findings,” he says.

The research, published in the latest issue of Alcohol and Alcoholism, is an auxiliary study of the Kids’Cam Study which in a world-first, examined the frequency and nature of children’s exposure to food and beverage marketing.

The researchers used automated wearable cameras and GPS units to study the children’s world. A random selection of 168 children between the ages of 11 and 13 –from 16 randomly selected schools in the Wellington region took part in the study, wearing the devices which recorded photos every seven seconds and locations every five seconds over four days between June 2015 and July 2015.

“This exposure occurred at a time when the Government did nothing, despite being advised to increase restrictions on alcohol marketing by the Law Commission in 2010 and in 2014 by the Ministerial Forum on Alcohol Marketing and Sponsorship,” says Mr Chambers.

The researchers are calling for urgent Government action to restrict alcohol marketing surrounding children to reduce alcohol-related harm.

“The findings are a real concern given there is now a large evidence base that shows exposure to alcohol marketing is associated with increased childhood alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harm. In particular, research has shown exposure to alcohol marketing via sports sponsorship and at alcohol outlets is associated with children’s alcohol consumption, including starting to drink at earlier ages,” Chambers says.

Alcohol marketing contributes to the worldwide burden of alcohol-related harm. In New Zealand, alcohol contributes to 800 deaths and costs the country over $5 billion per year. Moreover, alcohol is linked to over 200 medical conditions and causes a number of cancers. World Health Organization (WHO) Global Alcohol Strategy recommends restrictions on alcohol marketing as a ‘best buy’ for reducing alcohol-related harm.

“The higher rates of exposure to alcohol marketing for Māori children demonstrate the government is not meeting its obligations to Māori under the Treaty of Waitangi,” says Chambers, “particularly as Māori are 1.5 times more likely to be a hazardous drinker than non-Māori.”

These results reinforce the recent claim to the Waitangi Tribunal that the Government has not met its obligations to Māori by failing to implement the Law Commission recommendations, as well as correct other failings in the health system.

The researchers say that introducing alcohol marketing restrictions similar to those introduced in France, as recommending by the Law Commission, would substantially reduce children’s exposure to alcohol marketing and protect children from the adverse effects of early onset alcohol consumption.

“Our research provides further evidence that industry self-regulation does not work. It is time for Government to implement restrictions on alcohol marketing,” says Mr Chambers.

The research was funded by the Health Research Council of NZ as part of the DIET research programme (13/724) led by Professor Cliona Ni Mhurchu at the University of Auckland. Tim Chambers’ research was also funded by through a Fulbright Scholarship undertaken at Harvard University.

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