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Two studies show that health warnings are seen, but the effects are unknown.

Two studies show that health warnings are seen, but the effects are unknown

Drinkers are seeing those warning labels on bottles and cans of alcoholic beverages, but whether the message is getting across remains up for debate, according to two recent studies.

One nationwide survey has found that awareness of the labels is increasing, especially among heavier drinkers. Meanwhile, researchers in Michigan found that the amount of alcohol consumed by lower-income pregnant women hasn't changed since the warnings began in November 1989.

The studies were presented to the American Public Health Association, meeting this week in Atlanta. The warnings, printed on alcoholic beverage containers under federal law, tell consumers about such risks as pregnancy complications and drunken driving.

The national survey of about 2,000 adults found that by mid-1991 some 48 percent of heavy drinkers - those having five or more drinks on occasion, at least weekly - were aware of the warnings; that was up from 39 percent a year earlier, said Dr. Thomas Greenfield of the Medical Research Institute of San Francisco.

Greenfield said heavy drinkers who recalled the warnings were somewhat more likely than others to report limiting their drinking while driving: 86 percent to 80 percent, according to 1990 data.

But Greenfield said there's no direct evidence that the labels themselves are influencing behavior. With increased concern over drunken driving, people may change their habits based on a number of stimuli, he said.

"We can't strictly attribute it to the label," Greenfield said. "But it's a good sign that more people who recall the (warning) message are using the strategy."

The research out of Detroit suggests that lower-income pregnant women in that city haven't reduced their drinking since the warnings began.

From May 1989 to May 1991, researchers from Wayne State University surveyed 2,135 pregnant women, none of whom were teetotalers. Over that time, there was no difference in their average daily alcohol consumption, which remained about 0.6 absolute ounces, somewhat more than the average drink.

An increase in awareness of the label, from about 30 percent at the time the warnings began to 59 percent by 1991, apparently had little or no effect, said Dr. Janet Hankin, associate professor of sociology and obstetrics at Wayne State.

"Neither the fact the label existed..., nor the woman saying she was aware of the warning labels, predicted their drinking," she said. "These women were still drinking at about the same rate as they did before the labels went into effect."

The Wayne State survey was confined to women getting prenatal care at Detroit's Hutzel Hospital, which serves a largely black, low-income population. But the history of cigarette warnings would indicate the trend isn't limited to poor black females, according to Hankin.

"The health warning in and of itself seemed to make no difference," she said. "Additional health and prevention activities, instituted about the same time,...really decreased the high rate of smoking."

One industry group said it's unsure what effects, if any, the warnings are having. Jeff Becker, vice president of the Beer Institute, said his group is awaiting results of a look into the issue by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

"They're on the containers, so we presume people are looking at them, but it's never safe to presume," he said. "We're interested in the ATF study."
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Title Annotation:effects of warning labels on alcoholic beverages on consumers
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Date:Nov 25, 1991
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