Binge drinking: who’s doing it and how’s their health? Roy Morgan

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 5th March 2014
Who are binge drinkers in Australia and how healthy are they?

From the national ‘alcopops tax’ in 2008 to the recent ‘one-punch’ laws in New South Wales, various laws have been passed in Australia in the last few years in an effort to curb binge drinking and alcohol-related violence among young people.

But what exactly constitutes ‘binge drinking’ and are the young the main culprits?

Market research organisation Roy Morgan Research has reported that in an average week, 583,000 Australians aged 18 or older (or 3.3 per cent of the adult population) could be classified as binge drinkers in the year to September 2013, unchanged from the previous 12 months. Roy Morgan Research used the National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) guidelines which define binge drinking as ‘drinking too much on a single occasion of drinking’, with ‘too much’ being classified as five or more standard alcoholic drinks at one time, or more than 35 drinks per week for daily drinkers.

According to Roy Morgan Research, Australian men were roughly six times more likely to be binge drinkers than women, with 5.7 per cent (or 501,000) of men reporting that they drank 35 or more alcoholic drinks in an average seven days, compared to 0.9 per cent or 82,000 women. But Roy Morgan Research found that although young male binge drinkers may be the target of most public and media scrutiny, men aged 35 and older were actually more likely to be binge drinkers than their 18 to 24-year-old counterparts.

Are binge drinkers any less healthy than the average Australian?

The NHMRC advises Australians to drink ‘no more than two standard drinks on any day’ if they want to reduce the risk of alcohol-related harm over their lifetime.

Roy Morgan Research used its Alere Wellness Index to track the changing health of Australians and compared the health of binge drinkers with that of the average population, finding that the overall health scores of binge drinkers were lower than the average Australian adult.

Based on a survey of more than 50,000 Australians every year, the Index is comprised of detailed questions relating to 7 sub-indices: exercise, psychological wellbeing, nutritional health, alcohol, smoking, medical conditions and Body Mass Index (BMI). Scores were set at 100 in 2007 with subsequent scores above 100 showing improvements in health and lower scores indicating deterioration.

The findings showed that both male and female binge drinkers had lower overall health scores than the average Australian adult. Compared to the population average, binge drinkers had poorer nutrition, smoked more, were more likely to be overweight and suffered from more illnesses and other medical conditions. With overall health scores 13 per cent lower than the national average, women seemed especially adversely affected by binge drinking.

“Excessive alcohol consumption creates problems for the public, the police and the health system,” said Geoffrey Smith, General Manager Consumer Products, Roy Morgan Research.

“The good news is that we’re seeing a gradual decline in the proportion of Australian adults who binge drink,” Mr Smith said. “The bad news is that curfews on admission to clubs and time restrictions around calls for last drinks will have little effect on the majority of binge drinkers, who are aged over 35 and generally less likely to go out clubbing and pubbing til the wee hours,” he said.

Roy Morgan Research said its Helix Personas profiling tool could identify those segments of the population most likely to consume more than 35 alcoholic drinks in an average week, where they live and how campaigns could be targeted to reach them.

“For example, of all Australians 18 years or older who drank alcohol in the last seven days, people belonging to the competitive, middle-class Career and Kids persona are among those with an elevated likelihood of binge drinking,” Mr Smith said. “Typically based in up-coming suburbs like South Morang (Melbourne) and Glenmore Park (Sydney), they watch a lot of commercial and Pay TV and listen to the radio regularly, but tend to be light newspaper readers. So a TV or radio ad campaign would be a more effective way of gaining their attention than, say, a newspaper advertisement,” he said.

Australian National Preventative Health Agency examines alcohol marketing

The Roy Morgan Research findings come as the Australian National Preventative Health Agency (ANPHA) has released a Draft Report that examined the current system of regulation around alcohol marketing and advertising.

The ANPHA has detailed a number of draft recommendations to improve regulatory performance in this area.  Key draft recommendations were to:

  • Remove the exemption in the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice that allows  for the direct advertising of alcohol products before 8:30pm as an accompaniment to the broadcast of live sporting events on weekends and public holidays;

  • Improve the alcohol industry’s self-regulatory code – called the Alcohol Beverages Advertising (and Packaging) Code (ABAC) – which governs the content of alcohol marketing by –

    • ensuring that all forms of marketing are included within the code;

    • providing better guidance about the interpretation of the specific provision designed to ensure that alcohol marketing communications do not appeal evidently or strongly to children (the ANPHA said the “current interpretation is excessively narrow”); and

    • improving the code to ensure that a range and hierarchy of sanctions is included in addition to the current sole sanction of amending or withdrawing an advertisement; and improve public accountability by applying for authorisation of an improved code to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

The ANPHA had published the Draft Report to enable public comment on the draft recommendations to government.  Those wishing to participate in this consultation are required to provide a written submission to the ANPHA via email by 5pm Friday 21 March 2014.

The Draft Report does not represent the views of government who consider the ANPHA advice subsequent to a Final Report.   The Final Report is due to be provided before June 2014.

Once public comments on this Draft Report have been considered, the ANPHA will provide the Final Report to the Commonwealth Minister for Health.

Any interested person or organisation can make a written submission to the ANPHA.