Author: Tim Williams, Education Reporter
Teens are less likely to drink if they know that alcohol is a major cause of cancer, but most are unaware of the link, a South Australian study has found. More than 2800 school students aged 12-17 were surveyed about their drinking behaviour by Adelaide University and South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) researchers.
Those aged 14-17 were deterred from drinking if they knew about the link between alcohol and cancer, but only 28 per cent of students were aware of the connection. Parental disapproval was another deterrent, while smoking and approval from friends resulted in higher rates of drinking. Most students had tried alcohol by age 16 and a third drank at least occasionally. Wealthy students were more likely to drink.
Cancer Council SA chief executive Lincoln Size said there was clear evidence drinking caused cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx and oesophagus, as well as bowel cancer in men and breast cancer in women. It likely raised the risk of liver cancer and bowel cancer in women too.
“Any level of alcohol consumption increases the risk of developing an alcohol-related cancer; the level of risk increases in line with the level of consumption,” he said.
“This latest evidence highlights the need to educate young people about the consequences of alcohol consumption and for parents to demonstrate responsible drinking behaviour.
“We need to get the message through that what may be considered harmless fun actually has lifelong consequences.”
Lead author Jacqueline Bowden, a behavioural scientist with both the uni and SAHMRI, said drinking patterns were often set in adolescence.
“With alcohol contributing to four of the top five causes of death in young people, and a leading cause of cancer in our community, it’s important for us to better understand drinking behaviour among young people so we can help to prevent or delay it,” Ms Bowden said.
“One of the major messages from our study is that parents have more influence on their teenagers’ decisions regarding alcohol than they probably realise.
“Parental behaviour and attitudes towards alcohol really do make a difference, and can help prevent children from drinking at an early age.
“Many parents believe providing their children with alcohol in the safe environment of their home teaches them to drink responsibly.
“However, the weight of evidence suggests that this increases consumption, and is not recommended.
“Our results also found that those adolescents who thought they could buy alcohol easily were more likely to drink regularly. The issue of availability — including price — and marketing of alcohol in the community is a major hurdle to be overcome.”
The findings of the study, which was supported by Cancer Council SA and the State Government, have been published in the journal BMC Public Health.