Better monitoring and support needed to accelerate reductions in youth drinking and binge drinking

Mikkel Gerken

A new WHO report presents an evaluation of progress on the Action Plan on Youth Drinking and on Heavy Episodic Drinking (Binge Drinking) (2014–2016). It points out that while important efforts have been made to reduce youth and binge drinking in the WHO European Region, better monitoring and support for implementing evidence-based policies are needed to accelerate progress.

Countries have increased regulations and established policies to discourage binge and underage alcohol consumption along the lines of the Action Plan. For example, several countries reported alcohol tax rises during the study period, and some implemented an increase in the legal age for purchasing spirits.

This suggests that the Action Plan’s clear framework for action at the European Union (EU) level, which can be reinforced by other valid strategies and action plans, has been beneficial.

However, upon closer inspection, the policy gains were very modest. For example, the number of countries using health information labels on containers only increased from 2 to 3. This suggests the need for a stronger action plan. Priority areas of improvement include evidence-based policy actions and implementation support.

Awareness-raising activities were popular in Member States during the study period, but these are costly and, in isolation, do not sustainably reduce youth or binge drinking. The report found that in the future, these activities must complement stronger evidence-based actions.

The next action plan must also account for common barriers such as limited or reduced financial resources, lobbying and opposition from economic operators, and cultural resistance. This will need to involve implementation support at the EU level in the form of funding and adequate legislation accompanied by an effective monitoring system with measurable indicators of achievement.

The Action Plan on Youth Drinking and on Heavy Episodic Drinking (Binge Drinking) (2014–2016) was endorsed in September 2014 by EU Member States, represented by the Committee on National Alcohol Policy and Action (CNAPA) to compliment EU policy. In March 2017, CNAPA extended the Action Plan until 2020. This report assesses the first phase (2014–2016) and highlights areas of improvement for the upcoming year and the possible follow-up action plan.