Tuesday, September 1, 2015
Alcohol is a leading risk factor for death, disease and disability in high income nations such as Canada.1, 2 A recent report on alcohol in Wellington County, Dufferin County, and the City of Guelph (WDG) highlighted that 81% of WDG residents reported consuming alcohol in the last 12 months, and about half reported exceeding the low-risk alcohol drinking guidelines.3 If unhealthy alcohol consumption was eliminated in Ontario, 12.8% of all deaths would be prevented.4 Consequently, Public Health Units across Ontario are taking steps to reduce harmful alcohol use, rates of impaired driving, and damages associated with alcohol.
This report outlines a survey by Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health to explore residents’ knowledge and opinions about alcohol related issues and polices in their communities. The telephone survey took place during fall 2014 and included both quantitative and qualitative components. Six hundred and five residents from the WDG area completed the survey.
Key findings from this survey include:
- Most participants (85%) were unaware of Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines.
- Most participants demonstrated some knowledge about the health effects of alcohol.
- There was a low-level of knowledge among participants about alcohol’s effect on breast cancer, stroke, and heart disease.
- Drinking during pregnancy was not socially accepted among most participants, and the large majority were aware of the harms of drinking during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
- The most commonly reported alcohol-related community issues reported by participants were drinking and driving; alcohol-related violence; and over-serving at bars, pubs and restaurants. Public drunkenness was also a top issue for Guelph respondents.
- The majority of respondents supported these policy options:
- Banning the sale of energy drinks that are premixed with alcohol (71%)
- Making bars pay for city clean-up costs associated with the late-night bar scene (69%)
- Requiring alcohol to be sold with a warning label, like cigarettes (55%)
- Increasing the minimum price of alcohol yearly to be consistent with inflation (58%)
- Pricing alcoholic drinks based on alcohol content so that drinks with lower alcohol content are cheaper and drinks with higher alcohol content are more expensive (51%)
- Over half of residents also (56%) disagreed with the policy option of allowing alcohol to be sold in convenience stores.
In the comments section, respondents were most concerned about the level of awareness about the dangers of alcohol consumption. Several respondents raised concerns about the high rates of impaired driving and mentioned the need for stricter laws around this. Instituting additional alcohol-related policies and procedures in university towns was also listed as an important issue to be addressed among Guelph residents in particular. Other concerns were underage drinking, adverse effects of drinking (family abuse, violence against women and sexual assault), property damage and disruption near residential neighborhoods.
Informed by this survey, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health intends to support programs and healthy public policies that eliminate alcohol-related harm in its communities. There is much work to be done, and community partnerships will be important to increase awareness, change social norms, and create environments that support low-risk alcohol consumption.