Athletes who are sponsored by alcohol companies are at greater risk of dangerous drinking according to new research. Scientists at the University of Manchester and Mash University in Australia have found a link between heavy drinking in athletes and alcohol sponsorship.
The researchers looked at more than 2,000 athletes in the UK from Universities across the country. Of those surveyed about a third reported being sponsored by alcohol companies like brewers or pubs. The athletes who had alcohol sponsorships drank more and were more likely to drink in a hazardous manor.
Even when the scientist controlled for factors like the type of sport played, gender, income and region, athletes with alcohol sponsorships still out-consumed sportspeople without alcohol sponsorships.
50% of athletes with an alcohol related sponsor received scores on an World Health Organisation Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test that showed they would benefit from some counselling and should have their drinking monitored further. Among athletes without alcohol sponsorship, only 39% received similar scores on the test.
Associate Professor Kerry O'Brien, who led the study, said "We have known for some time that excessive drinking is more common in young adults who play sport or are fans, but we are just starting to understand why. It looks like alcohol sponsorship and the drinking culture it perpetuates could be one of these reasons."
In the past, the alcohol industry has responded to high rates of drinking among their sponsored athletes with a number of claims. The most common are that heavy drinkers seek out alcohol sponsorship or that heavy drinking may be a regional problem rather than a sponsorship issue. These two excuses were debunked by this and several other studies. Even after accounting for heavy drinkers seeking sponsorship, athletes with alcohol sponsors were still more likely to drink at dangerous levels. Other studies in Australia and New Zealand show similar results which means the higher levels of drinking around alcohol sponsorships are not related to region.
Dr, O’Brien said that the results of this study raise new questions as to weather alcohol sponsorship in sports may encourage unhealthy lifestyles. He said that, while sports helped young children avoid alcohol and other drugs, when these same people approach the legal drinking age, the same sports could push them into dangerous drinking habits.
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