Schools gave students “misleading and biased” information about alcohol using materials funded by the industry, a new study has claimed.
Lesson plans, factsheets, and films are being shown to thousands of pupils across the UK that are produced by companies with close ties to the alcohol industry that “portray alcohol as a normal consumer product to impressionable young minds”, the report states.
Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine reached their findings after they analysed teaching materials put together for schools by Drinkaware for Education, Smashed and Talk About Alcohol.
Drinkaware for Education is an intiative run by the industry-funded body Drinkaware, while Talk About Alcohol is run by the Alcohol Education Trust, whose donors include bodies funded by the alcohol industry.
Meanwhile, Smashed is a theatre-based educational initiative that educates pupils about the risks of underage drinking. It has been sponsored by drinks firm Diageo, which makes Guinness and Smirnoff, since 2005.
Published in the medical journal PLOS ONE, the researchers looked at materials given to teachers between 2017 and 2019.
“Alcohol industry-sponsored youth education programmes serve industry interests and promote moderate consumption while purportedly educating children about harms and influences of alcohol use,” wrote the authors, Dr May van Schalkwyk and Prof Mark Petticrew.
“The ongoing exposure of children and young people to such conflicted and misleading materials needs urgent attention from policymakers, practitioners, teachers and parents, and resources dependent on industry support should cease being used in schools,” they added.
“All programmes promoted familiarisation and normalisation of alcohol as a ‘normal’ adult consumer product, which children must learn about and master how to use responsibly when older.”
They continued: “The materials we analysed contribute to the alcohol industry narrative that it is people’s poor choices and a lack of control or responsibility as well as peer pressure that are to be understood as the problem, shifting blame on to individuals, in this case children and young people, and away from the inherent harmful nature of alcohol itself.”
Drinkaware has removed the materials used by researchers from its website.
A spokesperson said: “Drinkaware is an independent alcohol education charity which aims to reduce alcohol-related harm by helping people make better choices about their drinking. By offering evidence-based information the charity helps people decide which practical changes are right for them and gives tips and advice to form new habits and make it easier to drink less.
“Founded by the UK Government, the devolved administrations and the Portman Group which represented the alcohol industry, Drinkaware is funded by unrestricted voluntary donations from more than 130 organisations. These include UK alcohol producers, retailers, supermarkets, venues, restaurant groups and sports associations. Donations are given without restriction, and funders are not asked for, and, nor do they give, approval to any aspect of our work.
“Drinkaware for Education was wound down in 2019. The materials included in this research are out of date and don’t reflect our current guidance. They should have been removed from our website and they now have been. We’re sorry this didn’t happen sooner.”
Helena Conibear, chief executive at the Alcohol Education Trust’s chief executive told The Guardian: “We hope our programme has played no small part in the very encouraging falls in underage drinking, drunkenness and hospital admissions over the last decade.”
She also accused the authors of the research of “gross misrepresentation”.
A Diageo spokesperson said: “Since the Smashed project launched in the UK over 15 years ago, thousands of young people have explored the dangers and consequences of alcohol misuse through the programme, without reference to any specific kinds of alcohol or brands. Underage drinking has been falling in the UK over the last decade.”