Thursday, 3 July 2014

Sport and booze

From a new study in Addiction ...

University students in the United Kingdom who play sport and who personally receive alcohol industry sponsorship or whose club or team receives alcohol industry sponsorship appear to have more problematic drinking behaviour than UK university students who play sport and receive no alcohol industry sponsorship. Policy to reduce or cease such sponsorship should be considered.

This survey-based study claims that students who play sport for alcohol industry-sponsored teams are more likely to be 'hazardous drinkers' than those who don't.

What's a hazardous drinker? It's someone who gets more than eight points in this test. I am one of them, apparently. There's a good chance that you are too because no fewer than 84 per cent of the sportspeople in the Addiction study were hazardous drinkers.

That sounds pretty high, doesn't it? But then people who play sport appear to be a public health nightmare...

Research from the United States, Australia and New Zealand suggests that sportspeople, and especially university students who play sport, drink more hazardously than their non-sporting peers and the general population. Higher rates of drink-driving, anti-social behaviour and unprotected sex were also found in university sports participants

And that's before we get to all those sports injuries and deaths. The answer is plain—ban sports. Either that or we could do the usual thing and try to blame Big Industry.

Yeah, let's just do that...

Sport continues to be a primary vehicle for the promotion of alcohol, with a large proportion of the alcohol industry's advertising and sponsorship budget spent on sport.

Gosh, could that possibly be because people who play (and watch) sport are more likely to drink? Nah, only someone who has the slightest understanding of business would be familiar with the concept of target markets. Instead, let's just pretend that the alcohol industry randomly targets sports and uses its wily ways to draw unsuspecting rugger players into its web of liquor.

The study finds that 89 per cent of the players of alcohol-sponsored teams were hazardous drinkers, compared to 82 per cent of the others. This is not a big difference and I suspect that a little common sense can explain it.

Firstly, what constitutes the 'alcohol industry' in this study?

...participants were asked if they, their team or their club currently received sponsorship (e.g. money, equipment, travel costs, discounted/free alcohol) from an alcohol industry body (e.g. a bar, hotel, liquor store or producer).

OK, so we're including pub teams. That's fair enough. Pubs are part of the alcohol industry. But who plays for pub teams? Generally speaking, it's people who go to the pub a lot. It would be hardly surprising if they drink more than average. 

Secondly, there are thirty six different sports included in this study, but football and rugby are the most popular, each accounting for 18% of the participants. Football and rugby players like a drink, to put it mildly. I don't have the data, but I would put money on them drinking more than those who take part in, say, gymnastics or athletics or swimming. I would also bet that bars, liquor stores and alcohol manufacturers are more likely to sponsor football and rugby than gymnastics and swimming.

I would be amazed if this is not the case but, as I say, I don't have the data, and the reason why I don't have the data is that the authors of the Addiction study don't bother to tell us what proportion of each sport is sponsored by alcohol-related businesses and what proportion of those who play each sport are hazardous drinkers. If alcohol companies sponsor rugby teams more than swimming clubs, then it would not surprise me in the least if there is a statistical correlation between alcohol sponsorship and alcohol consumption, but this only brings me back to my point above—which always seems to fly over the heads of public health folk—that advertisers target people who are in the market for their product.

Perhaps there are people in public health who genuinely believe that football and rugby players drink more than platform divers and trampolinists because the alcohol industry sponsors those sports. In other words, that there are no differences between a gymnast and a forward prop other than their exposure to alcohol sponsorship. To those people, I can only throw up my hands and walk away. Statistical findings are worthless without common sense, and common sense is in desperately short supply in modern epidemiology.


In case the reader is left in any doubt that the Addiction study is policy-based evidence, it ends with the usual political tub thumping, including the obligatory reference to the tobacco industry and a plea to ignore evidence and embrace the ridiculous precautionary principle.

The present study provides some evidence from the United Kingdom, showing that alcohol industry sponsorship is possibly harmful... The tobacco industry has been prohibited from advertising during sports broadcasts and from sponsoring sport in many countries, and there is no evidence to suggest that this has resulted in a decline in sport participation or performance. Similar action has been called for in regard to the alcohol industry, with emphasis on the application of a precautionary principle, in particular on shifting the burden of proof to the proponents of the potentially harmful activity, i.e. the alcohol industry. Secondly, in the absence of strong evidence as to whether the association is likely to be causal which may take many years to develop, public health authorities are compelled to take preventive action until such evidence is available.

Compelled?! The power of public health compels us to attempt to reduce 'hazardous drinking' amongst university athletes from a whopping 89 per cent to a mere, er, 82 per cent on the basis of a naive interpretation of a survey that ignores obvious confounding factors and reverse causation?! Begone with you, stupid people.


PS. Elsewhere in Addiction you will find this gem...

Caffeine addiction? Caffeine for youth? Time to act!

Marketing tactics for caffeinated products targeting youth appear as egregious as previously admonished practices of the tobacco and alcohol industries. As researchers we should move more quickly to understand more clearly the impact of caffeine products on youth health and behavior. In the meantime, initiation of actions (e.g. mandatory labeling, retail and marketing restrictions, educational campaigns) to curtail and counter marketing promotions that promise our youth a better life through caffeine would appear the responsible thing to do.

It never ends.

7 comments:

Chris Oakley said...

It could all end tomorrow if the plug was pulled on funding. Beginning with the fortune we spend on the WHO, a corrupt organisation unfit for purpose that appears not to understand the meaning of the word hazardous. Or perhaps, like the otherwise unemployable sociology /psychology graduates who produce policy based evidence, is quite happy to misuse it in order to keep the misery flowing out and the cash rolling in.

People produce utter bilge such as this because it pays.

SteveW said...

Jesus wept, but that survey's appalling.

Q2 How many units of alcohol do you drink... Answers in no. of drinks rather than units - at least be self consistent...

"...It is recommended [...] a report of drinking 6 or more drinks on one occasion ever in the last year, should lead to a more detailed assessment of drinking and related problems..." Not exactly the recommendation I'd give my GP if he tried that line on me.

Utter cockwaffle.

chrisup2late said...

It's The Excorcist: The power of Public Health compels you!, the power of Public Health compels you...

JD said...

Yes, it's drivel. But what do you expect in 'Addiction'?
Rather more distressing is this drivel in a letter to Nature
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature13402.html
if only because one would expect 'Nature' to have some standards.

Anonymous said...

It could all end tomorrow if the plug was pulled on funding. Beginning with the fortune we spend on the WHO, a corrupt organisation unfit for purpose that appears not to understand the meaning of the word hazardous




















































































































































. Or perhaps, like the otherwise unemployable sociology /psychology graduates who produce policy based evidence, is quite happy to misuse it in order to keep the misery flowing out and the cash rolling in.




































































People produce utter bilge such as this because it pays.

nisakiman said...

What utter dross. I scored 8 points in the first section, and zero in the second, and that makes me a 'hazardous drinker'?

These morons really need to get proper jobs in the real world instead of pontificating about non-existent 'threats to society'.

If it wasn't so remorseless (and politically influential), it would be a joke.

Sana Nolan said...

Want a laugh? I got 7. I drink MAYBE twice a year - usually my birthday and either Christmas or New Year.

During the rest of the year, I'm practically a teetotaller.

Yet I got 7. What a joke.