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Measures to curb hazardous drinking at Otago - study

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

A study spanning ten years has found alcohol policy reform implemented by the University of Otago probably contributed to a change in the drinking culture of the student population.

The study, titled Hazardous Drinking among Students over a Decade of University Policy Change: Controlled Before-and-After Evaluation has been published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

The policy changes implemented by the University of Otago were in response to high levels of alcohol-related harm among students in the early 2000s. Since 2004 some of the policy brought in by the University to reduce alcohol related harm has included strengthening the Student Code of Conduct, deploying the Campus Watch security service, banning alcohol advertising on campus and increasing input on the operation of alcohol outlets near campus.

Following the controlled before-and-after study surveying students at Otago along with three control universities in 2004 and 2014, the primary outcome was the prevalence of recent intoxication. The proportion of respondents who drank alcohol at all did not change, but the proportion who drank to intoxication was substantially smaller in 2014 than in 2004.

"The 7-day prevalence of intoxication decreased from forty-five percent in 2004, to thirty-three percent in 2014. This is a substantial decrease during the period of alcohol policy reform," says study lead-author, Professor Kypros Kypri of the University of Otago’s Department of Preventive and Social Medicine.

The 7-day prevalence of intoxication also decreased at the other universities, but the absolute change at Otago was larger. Kypri noted that: "This was achieved without reducing the prevalence of drinking, which suggests that institutional policies can exert positive influence on how people drink."

The research showed that far less of the drinking occurred in pubs in 2014 than 2004.

"Overall, there has been a shift among Otago students to drinking less than weekly and across

fewer types of locations, with a large shift away from drinking in pubs. This coincided with a large reduction in the prevalence of intoxication among Otago students. The finding calls into question industry claims that licensed premises are less conducive to heavy drinking than other environments", Professor Kypri says.

He adds that the findings suggest that with concerted effort it is possible to change a drinking culture, citing the University’s involvement in objecting to license renewals possibly creating a tipping point for businesses that had survived by breaching server laws.

"Also, by issuing a clear statement of institutional values through the Code of Student Conduct, introducing a policy with highly visible symbolic value (the advertising ban) and implementing a well-resourced prevention programme (Campus Watch), the university began attracting fewer hazardous drinkers," Professor Kypri says.

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