Survey suggests media driving drink moderation

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Alcoholism

Extensive media coverage on the danger of alcohol abuse and so-called ‘binge drinking’ in Europe may be driving consumers in the bloc to increasingly consider moderate consumption, suggests a new survey.

Independent market analyst Datamonitor said that escalating debate and media coverage, in line with concerns over obesity, appeared to be influencing a number of European consumers’ drinking, according to the survey.

Some experts on alcohol policy within the bloc suggest that economic and demographic factors are likely to be more responsible for any potential shift in drinking towards moderate consumption though, if any change had taken place.

However, as alcohol manufacturers across the bloc continue to face scrutiny over their marketing and promotion practices from politicians and health groups, the drinks industry has moved to push messages of moderate drinking.

Consumer fear

Matthew Taylor, a Datamonitor analyst and author of the report “Bingeing & Moderation In Alcoholic Drinks”​, said that media coverage in a number of European and international markets has intensified over fears of consumers drinking too much.

Taylor added that, while increasing publicity of alcohol abuse and documentation on its health and cost impacts did not reflect a fully accurate portrayal of alcohol consumption, its findings suggest manufacturers need to embrace the moderation message.

“The alcoholic drinks industry can benefit from consumer attitudes to moderate drinking, but manufacturers must remain mindful that their business will remain the focus of some intense scrutiny,”​ he stated. “When promoting alcoholic drinks, marketers must be aware that responsible consumption is desired by the majority.”

Majority focus

Taylor told that the survey, which questioned around a 1000 consumers each in a number of European and other international markets, found the majority claiming to pay high attention to not drinking too much.

A majority of consumers surveyed in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the US all said that moderate consumption was favoured.

At least of 57 per cent of respondents said they were strongly focused on not drinking too much, a level Datamonitor defined as being set around respective recommended national guidelines.

About 48 per cent of UK consumers interviewed said that put high importance on moderate drinking by comparison, according to the survey.

“[The findings] illustrate that over half of all consumers worldwide are giving at least a high amount of their attention to ensuring that they do not drink too much alcohol in general,”​ stated Taylor. “This demonstrates that many consumers are taking personal responsibility for their levels of alcohol consumption and some have reduced their intake accordingly.”

‘Binge’ uncertainty

Datamonitor said the survey suggested that uncertainty over terminology such as ‘binge-drinking’ in the media had perhaps served to distort the true scale of alcohol abuse in Europe.

Taylor suggested that some sections of the press, use of the phrase ‘binge drinking’ differed in some cases to the general view of the medical fraternity relating to consuming five or more drinks in one session.

“The public associates binge drinking with the violent and anti-social behaviour widely covered by the media, which is usually the result of some consumers drinking significantly more than five drinks at a time,”​ he stated. “This gap in perception has helped to spread erroneous fears that binge drinking is a common occurrence for many adults.”

Taylor accepted that the changing attitudes hinted it in the survey had been a gradual change in consumers patterns and that there was a long way to go before victory in the drive to encourage responsible drinking.

Evidence calls

While welcoming any signs that drinkers may be heeding messages for responsible drinking, Andrew McNeill, honorary secretary for the alcohol policy group Eurocare, said that he was not aware of any hard evidence on the influence of the media on drinking.

“Levels of consumption vary in different parts of Europe, but the trends have been there for years and I know of no evidence to suggest that media coverage is responsible for any change,” he stated. “Where there are changes, there are more likely candidates to explain things such as economic and demographic factors.”

McNeill played down the influence of advertising or media scrutiny on drinking patterns by taking the UK market as an example.

“Bear in mind that there is probably as much media coverage and publicity on alcohol abuse in the UK as anywhere, and more than many countries, and alcohol mortality is increasing,”​ he stated.

Eurocare pointed to recently published data from the UK’s Office for National Statistics, cited by the BBC, which found that one in five British adults consumed more than double the recommended national limit at one point in 2007.

The findings, which were said to have sampled 16,000 respondents over 16 years of age, suggested that in the week before being surveyed, 41 per cent of men had drank over the recommended limit during at least one of the seven days, said the report.

About 34 per cent of women surveyed over the same time had drunk above recommended levels, the BBC added.

Current UK recommendations for alcohol are not to regularly drink more than three to four units a day for men and two to three units for women.

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