Hospital Healthcare Australia; Tuesday, 19 December, 2023

An AU$40,000 South Australian project is set to investigate the impact of promoting and using zero-alcohol drinks on young people’s perceptions and behaviour. Zero alcohol drinks (<0.5% alcohol) resemble alcohol in appearance and taste and are often closely linked to a parent alcohol brand, but there are currently no age, marketing or regulatory restrictions on these drinks, and they are freely promoted to all age groups, including young

Researchers from Flinders University are analysing the impact of this rapidly growing market to determine if it needs tighter regulation. Alcohol is a Class 1 carcinogen, and any amount of alcohol increases the risk of seven types of cancer with risk increasing with higher levels of use. It is also one of the leading individual risk factors for death and disability among 15- to 24-year-olds in Australia, contributing 14% of the disease burden among males and 6% among females, according to the university.

It is a public health imperative to delay or stop the use of alcohol among adolescents and sustain reductions in risky consumption, said lead researcher Dr Ashlea Bartram from the College of Medicine and Public Health, Flinders University. “Parents, policymakers, businesses and researchers are concerned that zero alcohol drinks — particularly those that share a brand and packaging look and feel with alcoholic drinks — may work as alcohol advertising in disguise, undermining regulations aimed at limiting children’s exposure to alcohol products and promotions, and potentially acting as a gateway to alcohol and its associated harms.

Promotions and perceptions

“We want to know the extent to which exposure to zero alcohol products and promotions affects adolescent children’s perceptions of alcoholic drinks. Whether these effects differ between zero alcohol drinks featuring brands used on alcoholic drinks (‘brand extension’) and those featuring brands that are unique to zero alcohol drinks (‘unique brands’),” Bartram said.

“There is a well-established association between frequency of alcohol advertisement exposure and alcohol consumption among adolescents and the effects of exposure to alcohol advertising are cumulative: the more alcohol advertising a young person is exposed to, the more alcohol they consume,” she said.

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