SAHMRI researcher, Ms Jacqueline Bowden, has been awarded the ‘2017 Public Health Association Kerry Kirke Award’ for her PhD studies in alcohol and cancer.
This award recognises outstanding scholarship by a student in public health and the research is graded on its originality, public health significance, impact and excellence.
Kerry Kirke Award: a great honour
Ms Bowden, a PhD student studying at the University of Adelaide and based at SAHMRI, said that she is delighted to receive this award.
“It is a great honour to receive this award, in the name of an outstanding national and international leader in public health, Kerry Kirke AM MD. I am passionate about highly translatable public health research and this award is great recognition of this,” Ms Bowden said.
Alcohol – the world’s most dangerous drug
Ms Bowden said that alcohol is the most commonly used drug in Australia, but many people do not realise that it is actually recognised as the most dangerous drug worldwide, causing a range of social harms.
“It is responsible for approximately 3.3 million deaths per year globally including 5,500 in Australia. In fact, alcohol has been classified as a class one carcinogen, along with asbestos and smoking, but many people are not aware of this,” Ms Bowden said.
Currently, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines to reduce lifetime harm state that ‘for healthy men and women, drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury.
A very topical issue
Ms Bowden’s first study was a large population study in South Australia of over 2,700 people. She found that 33 per cent of men and 10.7 per cent of women were drinking in excess of the guideline threshold for increased lifetime risk of disease. She was also able to demonstrate that most people weren’t aware of the guidelines for increased lifetime risk and many overestimated the consumption threshold for men (incorrectly thinking it was four drinks per day).
Unfortunately, only one in three adults saw alcohol as an important risk factor for cancer. Importantly, she found that among those who were aware of the link between alcohol and cancer, they were less likely to exceed guidelines.
She also conducted a study of approximately 3,000 South Australian secondary school students. She found that alcohol use increased with age, and by 16 years of age, most had tried alcohol.
Again, awareness of the link between alcohol and cancer was low (28.5 per cent). She also found that those who were aware of the link between alcohol and cancer were less likely to drink.
Ms Bowden added that one of the most important findings from this study was that if students thought their parents would disapprove of them drinking they were less likely to try it.
“Parents should feel empowered by these findings; it is important that they set clear rules around alcohol and they should not be providing it to underage children,” Ms Bowden said.
She has written this paper to inform parents on the latest evidence surrounding alcohol use among teenagers and strategies parents might use.
Ms Bowden is currently examining parental alcohol consumption at the national level through the National Drug Strategy Household Survey and is also studying Australian parents’ views on drinking in front of children. Results will be released in the coming months.
We would like to thank Cancer Council SA, the Government of South Australia and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare for data access to make this research possible.