Shared learning database

Staffordshire County Council
Published date:
August 2008

The project aimed to reduce the number of 11-15 year olds in Staffordshire who regularly consume alcohol and also to reduce the quantity consumed by each individual.

Guidance the shared learning relates to:
Does the example relate to a general implementation of all NICE guidance?
Does the example relate to a specific implementation of a specific piece of NICE guidance?


Aims and objectives

The project aimed to reduce the number of 11-15 year olds in Staffordshire who regularly consume alcohol and also to reduce the quantity consumed by each individual.

Evidence of effectiveness from published research led to the conclusion that this could only be done if the County Council worked together and in partnership with other agencies to bring together a multi-faceted programme of education, information and enforcement based upon an understanding of the drivers for young people's (YP) alcohol consumption and, therefore, what was likely to bring about behaviour change. 1. To reduce by 5 percent, the number of 11-15 year olds who report that they drank alcohol in the last week, as measured by a self reporting questionnaire and to reduce the mean alcohol consumption reported by each young person by one alcohol unit per week.

2. Using Social marketing principles, to determine and implement the most appropriate promotional and preventative programme to deliver the target reduction, with a range of agencies working together with a common approach and message with the primary focus of contact with young people and their parents/carers being in schools.

3. It was recognised that social attitudes to alcohol consumption were quite different compared to other drugs, and outside of the school setting, there was a wider task of communication to focus on the harm that can result from inappropriate alcohol use. A third objective was therefore to use publicity and the media to promote responsibility in relation to young people and alcohol. This included the media in the broadest sense including school computers and social networking websites

Reasons for implementing your project

This was an issue of concern at local and national levels from both public health and community safety perspectives. Communities around the county were expressing rising concern about teenage drinking and binge drinking being an increasing phenomenon with alcohol related disease being reported in significantly younger people.

The UK has some of highest levels of YP alcohol consumption in the world (12 units/week in 2006 but reducing to 9.2 in 2007). Over the last 10 years nationally, the percentage of 11-15 yr olds who regularly drink alcohol has fluctuated between 20-26%. Young people's alcohol-related hospital admissions are increasing.

In Staffordshire schools, there was a lack of joined up thinking or programmes to guide either students or staff in dealing with alcohol issues and it was noted that there were conflicting messages about alcohol and young people (this reflected the national position with a lack of consensus over what are the right messages about alcohol and young people). Whilst drugs issues were being tackled at a tier 1 (non-targetted educational) level, there was comparatively little attention given to alcohol, despite the well recognized links with unsafe sex and teenage pregnancy e.g. the Healthy Schools team had an advisor for drugs but not for alcohol.

A Staffordshire baseline survey was undertaken with over 2500 11-15 year olds using the same questions as the national NHS Information Centre "Drug Use, Smoking and Drinking among Young People" survey and administered in the same way as the NHS survey. This was necessary because the national survey data could not be broken down to provide meaningful Staffordshire data. This baseline survey showed that 33.1% of YP consumed a mean of 6.9 units of alcohol each in the week before survey i.e. a significantly greater proportion of young people in Staffordshire were consuming alcohol than was shown to be the case nationally, albeit that they were drinking somewhat less per week.

How did you implement the project

1. At the end of the programme (March 2008), survey of over 4500 students showed that there was a reduction from 33.1% of YP reporting that they were each consuming 6.9 units of alcohol in a week to 26.5% consuming 6.6 units of alcohol. This downward trend is sharper than that seen nationally with more than 1 in 6 fewer Staffordshire young people claiming to have regularly consumed alcohol at the end of the programme.

2. A programme steering committee concluded that available resources should be invested in the appointment of an Alcohol Adviser based within the Healthy Schools team to work with schools. This appointment was made and the programme began around 12 months before the final survey.

There were also other actions undertaken in parallel such as enforcement activity by Trading Standards to detect and prevent under-age sales from taking place and advisory work with retailers to promote responsibility in the sale of alcohol.

3. The steering committee also invested funding in providing access to on-line information on school computer desktops via a HealthBytes desktop icon which was regularly refreshed in order to retain students' interest and allowed access to information about alcohol.

The Healthy Schools team also used the social networking sites facebook & myspace to give further access to targeted alcohol education materials.

A media communications plan was put in place which was geared to have an increasing pace and resulted in a large number of articles appearing in local newspapers and on local radio. A roadshow was developed between the partner agencies which helped to draw media attention as well as the interest from parents and young people when it rolled into town centres.

Key findings

General progress against the agreed action plan and the communications plan was monitored and driven by the multi-agency steering group which met monthly.

The primary evaluation of results was through survey of between 2,500 and 4,500 11-15 year olds and analysis of the results by the Council's research team.

A wider evaluation of the whole programme was undertaken by Keele University.

Results will be published on the Council's website. No decision has yet been taken about wider publication, other than through NICE.

Key learning points

A multi-agency steering group which met regularly set and drove the action plan that was a necessary prerequisite to success.

Our review of published work showed a relatively weak evidence base for what works in reducing alcohol consumption in young people. We drew from the social marketing concept and sought the views of young people and parents to gain a greater insight into what were the real issues (see accompanying information).

The evidence pointed towards the need for students to have opportunity to develop knowledge, attitudes and skills, including reflection on the role of self esteem and society on drinking behaviour.

We recognised that we had a difficult task to achieve and that working through schools would be the major focus for reaching young people - this was successful.

The young people themselves told us that they get information from the internet and so we decided to use this as one of the means of engaging them - this was independently evaluated as one of the successful elements of the programme. We also saw a much larger challenge which was largely beyond our reach - that of changing social attitudes to alcohol, however we did decide to use the media to at least start to put out appropriate messages about alcohol and young people based around harm minimisation.

We had a clear communications plan which was successful in engaging the media although we have not been able to evaluate the wider social impact of the programme.

We could usefully have planned for academic evaluation at the beginning of the programme - that we failed to do so meant that it was difficult for researchers to identify what impact specific interventions were having.

We found that, over time, it was easier to reduce the number of young people who regularly consume alcohol, than to reduce the volume that individuals who do drink, actually consume.

Contact details

Brian Camfield
County Manager Healthier Communities
Staffordshire County Council

Is the example industry-sponsored in any way?