Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Public Health

Marketing a Hard-to-Swallow Message: Recommendations for the Design of Media Campaigns to Increase Awareness about the Risks of Binge Drinking

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Public Health

Marketing a Hard-to-Swallow Message: Recommendations for the Design of Media Campaigns to Increase Awareness about the Risks of Binge Drinking

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Background: Binge drinking, commonly defined as having more than five drinks on a single occasion, is a public health issue affecting two thirds of Canadian young adults between the ages of 1 9-24 years. To educate young adults about alcohol poisoning, a network of 16 Ontario Health Units developed and implemented a mass-media campaign. The focus of this article is to report on post-secondary students' perceptions about key media campaign strategies, elements and messages for future campaigns designed to increase awareness about the risks of binge drinking.

Methods: As part of a multi-method process evaluation, nine focus groups were facilitated to explore the young adults' knowledge, attitudes and beliefs about binge drinking and the campaign messages. Participants were also asked to identify specific marketing messages and techniques that would increase their level of awareness about the risks of binge drinking.

Results: Participants recommended that campaigns be targeted towards parents and high school and post-secondary school students. Participants provided recommendations for the types of messages, images, and language they perceived would capture the attention of young adults. Television, posters and the internet were identified as key media channels for disseminating health information about the risks associated with excessive alcohol consumption.

Conclusion: The problem of binge drinking is pervasive across Canadian campuses and students are largely unaware of the risks associated with excessive alcohol consumption. To reach this target population, it is important for future media campaign developers to utilize language, definitions, graphics and channels of communication to which this group relates.

MeSH terms: Mass media; evaluation studies; alcohol drinking; adult

Binge drinking has traditionally been defined as the consumption of five or more drinks (5+) during a single occasion.1 Wechsler and Austin2 suggest that a gender-specific definition, 5+ drinks for men and four or more (4+) for women, is a more accurate definition that considers differences in alcohol metabolism rates. Using the 5+ measure, results from the Canadian Campus Survey3 indicate that, over a single fall term, 62.4% of undergraduate University students (72.1% of drinkers) report at least one binge-drinking episode. Among drinkers, the mean frequency of consuming 5+ drinks per occasion over the term was almost 5 times.3 Heavy, episodic drinking is a significant contributor to the morbidity and mortality of young adults.4 Students who drink excessively are at increased risk of experiencing alcohol-related-injury deaths, including motor vehicle accidents, or unintentional injuries.5 Additional consequences include: experiencing hangovers, missing classes, regretting their actions, and memory loss.6 Non-drinking peers residing on campuses report secondary effects related to the actions of binge drinkers, including being assaulted, experiencing an unwanted sexual advance or being a victim of property theft or damage.7

Ontario Health Units are mandated to provide educational information to targeted groups regarding alcohol use and health status.8 Despite inconsistent evidence regarding the effectiveness of mass-media campaigns in reducing binge-drinking behaviours,9 health units are required to launch annual community events and multi-media campaigns. To educate young adults about alcohol poisoning, a network of 16 Ontario Health Units developed and implemented a mass-media campaign. The purpose of the campaign was to increase knowledge among 19-24 year olds of: a) the risks associated with binge drinking, b) the number of drinks that constitutes binge drinking, and c) strategies that can be used to avoid binge drinking. The campaign consisted of the development and mass distribution of a poster, a postcard, the placement of purchased radio advertisements and media releases. Health unit staff also participated in local community events to increase awareness about the dangers of binge drinking and sought opportunities for unpaid advertising, such as radio and television interviews. …

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