Sports stars’ drinking habits don’t influence youth

April 22nd, 2010 - 1:37 pm ICT by IANS  

London, April 22 (IANS) The drunken and loutish behaviour of some sporting heroes has little or no effect on the drinking habits of young people, research says.
Researchers at the Universities of Manchester, Britain, and Western Sydney, Australia, said their findings rubbish the idea that sports stars act as role models for those who follow sport.

“The perceived drinking habits of sports stars and its relationship to the drinking levels of young people has never been examined empirically, despite these sporting heroes often being touted as influential role models for young people,” said Kerry O’Brien, lecturer at Manchester’s School of Psychological Sciences, who led the study.

“Our research shows that young people, both sporting participants and non-sporting participants, don’t appear to be influenced by the drinking habits of high-profile sportspersons as depicted in the mass media,” he added.

O’Brien and his colleagues, pointing to previous research, suggest that sport and sports stars are much more likely to influence the drinking behaviour of fans when used as marketing tools by the alcohol industry, such as through sponsorship deals.

The research team asked more than 1,000 young followers of sportspersons at elite and amateur level and non-followers of sportspersons to report the perceived drinking behaviour of high-profile sports stars compared with their friends, and then report their own drinking behaviour using the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test.

The researchers found that both sporting and non-sporting study participants believed that sports stars actually drank significantly less than themselves but that their own friends drank considerably more.

After accounting for other potential factors, sports stars’ drinking was not predictive of young followers’ own drinking, and was actually predictive of lower levels of drinking in non-followers - the more alcohol non-followers perceived sports stars to drink, the less they actually drank themselves.

O’Brien said: “Sport administrators are very quick to condemn and punish individual sport stars for acting as poor role models when they are caught displaying drunken and loutish behaviour.”

But there is much stronger evidence for a relationship between alcohol-industry sponsorship, advertising and marketing within sports and hazardous drinking among young people than there is for the influence of sports stars’ drinking, a Manchester release said.

“We are not suggesting that sports stars should not be encouraged to drink responsibly but it’s disingenuous to place the blame on them for setting the bad example,” O’Brien said.

The findings were published in Drug and Alcohol Review.

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