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Geoff Munro

Geoff Munro

National Policy Manager
June 29, 2017

Do community alcohol prevention programs work?

Changing people’s behaviours is the holy grail in health promotion. Whether it’s encouraging people to make better food choices, being vigilant for disease symptoms or reducing the amount they drink, most health promoters aim to change behaviour and prove they have done so.

Here at the ADF we’re pretty keen on highlighting community interventions which are working to reduce the alarming – and preventable – toll from alcohol.

So we’re chuffed to say that it’s our own program that’s been proven to do exactly that.

What were the results?

Findings of an independent four-year study into the Good Sports program were published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The results were astounding. Good Sports has been proven to reduce the risk of alcohol related harm and the likelihood of risky drinking.

  • Members of Good Sports clubs were 37% less likely to drink at ‘risky’ levels, meaning five or more standard drinks in one sitting.
  • Members of Good sports clubs were found to be 42% less likely to experience alcohol-related harm.

These results are the first time in the world that a community sports program has been proven to reduce risky drinking.

How was the research run?

The study took place over four years in the Hunter New England and Sydney regions of New South Wales, and was conducted by the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Population Health and Deakin University.

It divided a set of 88 football clubs (soccer, NRL rugby union and AFL clubs) into two groups, and then randomly signed half of them up to the Good Sports program, while the other half were a control group. Both sets of clubs were given a preliminary survey to determine baseline levels of alcohol consumption (using AUDIT measures) and harm, followed up again four years later (over 1,000 club members were surveyed at either end of the study). The study itself was double-blind; the surveys were de-identified, so that researchers didn’t know whether the results they were handling belonged to someone at a Good Sports club or not. The journal publication was peer-reviewed, lending another layer of rigour and independence to the study findings.

Incredibly, the trial found that even when club members are drinking outside their club, the behaviour change holds – that is, they are less likely to drink at risky levels in other settings as well.

What is Good Sports?

Good Sports was trialled in Victoria in the late 1990s, and now 17 years later it involves over 7,500 clubs around the country.

Clubs work through a three-level accreditation model. Clubs which serve or consume alcohol at their grounds are supported to comply with their liquor licenses, club members undergo Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) training, and promotions, competitions and awards which promote drinking are phased out. As they progress through the higher levels clubs they need to meet criteria including having workable policies in place for things like safe transport options (to prevent drink driving) and bar management strategies which include providing low-cost non-alcohol options and lower-alcohol alternatives.

The program is driven by the club committee with support from Good Sports officers who provide guidance and support. One of the key things Good Sports clubs tell us is that the program helps them set clear expectations of what is acceptable drinking behaviour at their club.

What does this mean?

These results prove that prevention works.

Prevention programs that work, like Good Sports, give communities another option in reducing the negative social impacts of alcohol and other drugs. By working to change drinking culture incrementally, at-risk community members can be part of the solution without feeling like they’re being unduly targeted or patronised.

By investing in prevention programs that work, governments will see a sizeable return: further research commissioned by the Australian Drug Foundation through consultancy group KPMG showed that for every dollar spent on the program, the community saved $4.20 from averted costs like healthcare, violence and productivity losses.

Of course prevention is not the only answer to reducing alcohol-related harm, but when combined with other harm and supply reduction measures, it can be very effective. We encourage all Australians to remind policy makers that investment in prevention is critical.

Learn more about Good Sports and how your local sports clubs can get involved.

This article was originally published on GrogWatch on June 9, 2015. It has been updated to include current statistics.