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Students learn to decode alcohol adverts

AAP logoAAP 28/07/2016 Sarah McPhee

The latest school program to target underage and binge drinking focuses on decoding alcohol advertisements rather than shocking students with pictures and statistics.

Game Changer, an initiative of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), was officially launched by ACT Assistant Minister for Health Meegan Fitzharris in Canberra on Friday and will be rolled out in four high schools in term three following a successful NSW debut.

FARE's chief executive Michael Thorn says the 10-week media literacy program teaches Year 9 and 10 students to "understand what is being done to them with advertising", with a particular focus on campaigns emerging on social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram.

"That's a much more concerning area because the alcohol companies are really appropriating the individuals to market their products to by posting things online," he said.

"The alcohol industry is a dying industry unless it can recruit new drinkers."

He said the curriculum aims to "increase the resilience" of young people exposed to such advertising, with traditional facts-based programs featuring images of one-punch victims having little effect.

"Showing them pictures of Thomas Kelly or Daniel Christie doesn't have an impact, and talking about the numbers admitted to emergency departments doesn't resonate with young people," Mr Thorn said.

He said Game Changer is designed to prevent the development of risky drinking behaviour and to combat the "pretty weak" system of self-regulation in advertising.

The latest figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data show 34 per cent of 12 to 17-year-olds have tried alcohol, while a quarter of those aged between 14 and 17 had consumed more than five standard drinks on a single occasion in the last year.

The Australian government's alcohol consumption guidelines suggest delaying "the initiation of drinking for as along as possible" due to the adverse affect of alcohol on brain development.

Lead Game Changer researcher Professor Sandra Jones said the program encourages students, teachers and parents not to be misled by the "barrage of sophisticated and powerful alcohol-industry messages".

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