Saturday, February 2, 2013

Binge Drinking Among Women and High School Girls

             Binge Drinking is a problem among the women of America. According to the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, excessive consumption of alcohol in women is accounted for "an estimated average of 23000 deaths and 633000 years of potential life lost among women and girls in the United States each year."  Citing the BRFSS survey, the report found that 12.5% of women aged above 18 binge drink. Women tend of binge drink less as they age(24.2% for 18-24 year olds and 2.5% for over 65 year olds); more educated women had a higher prevalence of binge drinking (14.1% of college graduates) compared to women with less education(8.5% of high school dropouts); women with higher income levels(16.0% in >$75,000) binge drink more than their lower income subjects (11.4% in <$25,000). One alarming data point is that 19.8% of high school girls binge drinks.

This is a problem because underage drinking may cause irreparable damage to the girls’ body and growth. The report also points out that alcohol consumption by high school girls is "strongly correlated with alcohol consumption by adults.” Explanations for this correlation include the youths’ desire to be like “the adults”, cultural factors, and new alcoholic beverages marketed to appeal to underage girl among others. Regardless of what it is, reducing the prevalence of binge drinking in adults may reduce that of underage girls, safeguarding their health.

The worst part is that the numbers that we have on the prevalence of binge drinking are all voluntary surveys and suffer from reporting bias. Those who indulge in binge drinking may report that they do not if they agreed take the survey at all (because of negative stereotypes of alcoholics). This survey then omits a lot of binge drinkers and under-reports the prevalence of binge drinking in women, meaning that there is actually a higher prevalence of binge drinking than the survey may show.

The trends between binge drinking and age, income and education level are not too surprising. Older women binge drink less because they are more mature; women with higher income binge drink because they can afford to do so; more educated women binge drink more because they are more stressed. However, I find the high prevalence (37.9%) of alcohol consumption among high school girls to be surprising. It really shows that the drinking age and the reinforcement of it is not very effective.

If we can lower alcohol consumption and prevalence of binge drinking in adult women, we would also reduce that of high school girls. Increasing the drinking age won’t do anything but cause inconveniences and a lot of opposition from the public. Lowering the drinking age allows easier access to alcohol (which makes a lot of people happy but doesn't solve the problem at hand). Limiting the amount of alcohol supplied or increasing the tax on alcohol in the market will without a doubt lower sales and reduce consumption, but it would result in dead weight loss in the alcohol market (economically undesirable). The best way to reduce alcohol consumption would be to educate the public of the dangers of alcohol overconsumption and the joys and merits of moderation. On top of that, the public need to suppress the popular media’s implication that getting wasted or passed out drunk is the hip and cool thing to do.

2 comments:

  1. I thought that your point that lowering binge drinking in adult women would decrease binge drinking in girls is completely valid. It makes sense that this could work, as the report noted that the cultural acceptance and prevalence of drinking among women in certain locations appears to be the major factor influencing drinking among girls. I think the media is also an important influence, as you mentioned, but it's tough to know how to lessen the effects of either of these things just based on this report. Yes we need to "suppress the popular media's implication that getting wasted . . . is cool," as you said, but how do we do that? Or how do we make education about alcohol effective? I don't know the answer, but hopefully this is something we will discuss in class. Thanks for your post!

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  2. Thanks for your thoughts. I'm interested in what you believe could be an effective intervention among female drinkers. The study points out a number of possible interventions:

    "1) limiting alcohol outlet density, 2) holding alcohol retailers liable for harms related to the sale of alcoholic beverages to minors and intoxicated patrons (dram shop liability), 3) maintaining existing limits on the days and hours when alcohol is sold, 4) measures increasing the price of alcohol, 5) avoiding further privatization of alcohol sales in states with government-operated or contracted liquor stores, 6) electronic screening and brief interventions in the clinical setting, and 7) maintaining and enforcing age 21 years as the minimum age for legal drinking"

    Additionally, I'm interested in your comments regarding "deadweight loss". While "deadweight loss" describes the inefficiencies that are introduced to a market due to taxation, is a "deadweight loss" always bad? Large taxes and regulatory burdens have essentially outlawed machine gun purchases in the United States. Nevertheless, is the deadweight loss associated with forgone machine gun purchases inherently bad? Can taxes be used to impute the true cost of a product when there are externalities associated with the sale of the product?

    Thanks again for your post. Check out the following link regarding evidence based interventions regarding alcohol consumption.

    http://www.thecommunityguide.org/alcohol/index.html

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