Changing young male attitudes to drinking and swimming

Dr Kyra Hamilton, Psychology
Dr Kyra Hamilton, from Griffith Health Institute’s Behaviourial Basis of Health is presenting her research at this week’s Gold Coast Health & Medical Research Conference 2013 (28 & 29 Nov).

Looking at the reasons why young men drink and swim is the focus of new Griffith research which aims to reduce the number of drownings.

Drowning, a largely preventable problem, continues to be a serious issue worldwide, with young men particularly at risk.

The Royal Life Saving Society National Drowning Report 2011 revealed an 11% increaseon the five-year average in drowning fatalities. Due to this rise in drownings, the Australian Water Safety Strategy 2008-2011, aims to have a 50% reduction in drowningby 2020.

Although on track with persons in the 0-4 year age group, urgent work is needed withinthe male 18-34 group (which has seen a 3% increase in drowning deaths on the five-year average) to ensure this target is achieved.

Alcohol consumption is a known risk factor for drowning and men in this age group oftenengage in risk taking behaviour that is often heightened by alcohol.

Research conducted by Dr Kyra Hamilton from Griffith Health Institute’s BehaviourialBasis of Health, used questionnaires to survey 211 Australian males in the target age group, regarding the beliefs underlying their intentions to engage in drinking andswimming.

The first-of-its-kind research used The Theory of Planned Behaviour belief-basedquestionnaire to ask participants about their attitudes towards the intention to engage in risk-taking behaviours.

A range of beliefs were significantly correlated with males’ intentions to drink and swim,the study found.

“We found that the social context for drinking and swimming is very important for thisgroup,” says Dr Hamilton who is presenting her research at this week’s Gold Coast Health and Medical Research Conference 2013 (Thursday 28 and Friday 29 November).

“Not surprisingly, they told us that drinking provides for a more relaxed and fun time whilstswimming and that people are not really thinking about the more risky, negative aspects of the danger involved.

“Participants also told us about beliefs relating to gaining approval from friends and thepotential peer pressure involved. The men stated that these were often likely factors in seeing them engage in drinking and swimming.

“We also found that this age group is more likely to indulge in swimming while intoxicatedwhen they believe that other people are around to provide help if they encounter danger.

“Unfortunately this is a myth that does not hold true.”

A well-known psychologicalphenomenon called The Bystander Effect has shown that although people may haveothers around to help them in an emergency situation, this help does not alwayseventuate.”

Dr Hamilton says these key beliefs should provide appropriate targets for futureintervention strategies.

“In order to challenge and ultimately change young males’ alcohol use in or around water,these beliefs warrant change and it is imperative that myths such as ‘people will always help me in an emergency’ are dispelled.

In conclusion, Dr Hamilton says that intervention campaigns designed to reduce drowningdeaths may benefit from targeting the key beliefs revealed from this research.

“Although one of the over-riding beliefs is that alcohol provides a fun and relaxedenvironment, the dangers of drinking and swimming need to be heavily emphasised inorder to highlight the potentially devastating consequences of such behaviour.”