Researchers unearth the flaw of major Drinkaware Trust CampaignResearch conducted by London South Bank University discovers the negative effects of anti-drinking posters on binge drinkers
Health problems caused by excessive drinking cost the NHS around £3 billion a year. Cutting the amount people drink saves lives as well as money, and LSBU research is at the forefront of moves to cut binge drinking among the young.
The Drinkaware Trust has been campaigning for many years to cut the numbers of binge drinkers in the UK, and has run a number of national campaigns aimed at tackling the problem. However, evaluating the success and appropriateness of the campaigns is a complex and subjective matter – which is where LSBU's expertise comes in.
Minimising alcohol abuse
LSBU has a distinguished background in researching ways to minimise alcohol abuse. Since 2000, they have taken an analytic approach to issues around addiction and LSBU's Addictive and Health Behaviours group has been developing a body of knowledge examining the effects of social and individual thinking processes on drinking behaviour.
As part of this research, the team examined how drinkers responded to Drinkaware Trust's national 'Why let good times go bad?' campaign. It focused on responsible drinking as an approach to cut binge drinking in 18-24 year olds. Despite being implemented nationally, little research had been conducted into how efficient it was, so LSBU's work would provide new insight.
LSBU researchers studied drinkers in lab-based bar settings and experimental laboratories designed to mimic a bar environment. Eye-tracking and alcohol expectancies were measured along with drinking behaviour as the team tracked how much alcohol was consumed.
It was found that far from cutting alcohol consumption, the campaign was actually having the opposite effect. Those exposed to the responsibility-based messages drank more, and were more likely to consider drinking heavily, than those who were exposed to positive health messages instead.
Academic research will inform future campaigns
The Drinkaware Trust had launched the campaign nationally, consulting with academics from LSBU and other UK universities. The breadth of findings by LSBU's research team have helped ensure that in the future, academic research will continue to influence campaigns targeting the need to cut binge drinking.
The results of the research have influenced government policy, and were discussed by the Chairman of Alcohol Research with senior civil servants within the Department of Health, including those responsible for the government's Alcohol Strategy. When the Drinkaware Trust became aware of LSBU's research, they met with the team behind it to discuss its implications.
The team's evidence, suggesting that the campaign was encouraging binge drinking rather than cutting it, was also presented to an independent review panel formed to assess the impact of the 'Why let good times go bad' campaign. Because LSBU's research showed that the campaign was not working as expected, the five-year, multi-million pound campaign was suspended a full year ahead of schedule.
The review panel's final report also recommended that future campaigns should be informed by the methods LSBU devised to assess effectiveness, and that academic input should be sought at the start of future campaigns. Drinkaware's CEO has also ensured that new campaigns will be informed by LSBU's research.
To disseminate the research further, it was presented at the Federation of Drug and Alcohol Professionals in 2011 and at the City Health conference in 2012. Understanding that public health messages can have the opposite effect to the one intended is fundamental for understanding and evaluating public health messages. Sharing research findings will enable the work to influence others as they build and develop on methods used at LSBU.