Conflict of Interest

Would you trust a study about the benefits of soda funded by The Coca-Cola Company?

Probably not.

So when the National Institutes of Health ordered the halt of a $100 million, 10-year study of moderate drinking in mid-May, prevention groups – including Texans Standing Tall – applauded the move.

That’s because the controversial study was being funded in large part by the alcoholic beverage industry—Anheuser Busch InBev, Heineken, and other industry giants were giving donations to a private foundation that supports the NIH. Roughly two-thirds of the funding for the study was coming from liquor and beer companies.

According to the NIH Director himself, “This particular study was set up in such a way that the funding is largely coming from the beverage industry and there is evidence that NIH employees assisted in recruiting those funds for this study in a way that would violate our usual policies.”

The New York Times reported that the study was being billed as the kind that “could change the American diet, a huge clinical trial that might well deliver all the medical evidence needed to recommend a daily alcoholic drink as part of a healthy lifestyle.”

The problem is that the people being billed – liquor company representatives – had a heavily vested interest in the outcome of the study.

We all stand to lose since results skewed in the industry’s favor would likely promote and encourage unhealthy drinking behaviors. Ultimately, this would negatively affect individuals’ health and public health.

The potential damage a study like this could have on prevention is tremendous. For decades, prevention organizations have been working at the forefront to reduce excessive alcohol use and counter the increasing normalization of consumption – especially among young people. In recent years, we’ve had to work overtime to combat the rise in marketing and promotion by the alcohol industry, which has slowly convinced us that alcohol consumption is good for our health.

A study like this one would make it more challenging to debunk these dangerous myths, reversing decades of important work in prevention, awareness, and education. Critics also worry the research would not fully capture the harms and risks associated with drinking. Another concern? No other long-term trial “had ever asked participants to drink, much less drink every day.” With existing research showing that drinking daily can have negative health effects, this study seems ill-conceived and potentially dangerous. (Keep in mind, this was a long-term study that was supposed to include about 7,000 people drinking daily over the course of several years.)

Because the study has only been suspended, there is still a possibility it will resume. But critics and advocacy groups have been vocal about the importance of stopping this study for good, and there is pressure on the NIH to distance itself from the alcohol industry after the perceived “cozying up to Big Alcohol.”

In the meantime, we will continue to monitor any news relating to the NIH study and continue working with prevention groups across Texas to dispel myths, educate the public, and reduce underage alcohol use to help create healthier, safer communities.

Want to support our efforts? You can follow us on social media, join your local coalition, make a one-time or recurring financial gift to fund our work, or contact us to learn more and get involved!

Alcohol Delivery Apps Bring Booze Via Smartphone

Growing up, many of us delighted in the occasional pizza delivery on a weekend night. Packages from the postman arrived when faraway relatives sent birthday and holiday gifts. The term “app” was an abbreviation for “appetizer.”

But in 2018, cardboard boxes are a front-porch staple, and we expect most of our products to be delivered in a matter of days. Delivery apps cut that time down to hours or minutes, bringing groceries, restaurant food, drivers, and household goods to our front doors in no time. It is no surprise that there’s a fast-growing market for alcohol delivery, too.

It’s also no surprise that delivery apps make it easier for underage drinkers to get alcohol through delivery services than from bars or retail stores. The bottom line is that these apps create greater and easier access to alcohol, which is the exact opposite of what we need to do to reduce and prevent underage drinking.

A recent Austin American-Statesman story reported that “in a handful of sting operations conducted by Texas regulators, people younger than the legal drinking age of 21 were able to obtain alcohol using app-based delivery services at more than twice the rate generally found in similar sting operations conducted in bars and liquor stores.”

Until recently, alcohol delivery has predominantly consisted of high-end wine sales; youth aren’t exactly the target market for this kind of online alcohol purchasing.

Now, mobile apps like Drizly and Postmates promise fast alcohol delivery – from beer to bourbon – to our front doors. With smart phones in the hands of roughly 4 in 5 youth, this type of direct shipment to private residences is just a download away for your junior high, high-school, or underage college student.

In this convenience economy, there are many questions that still need to be answered about this new delivery model: Who should be licensed? How do you prevent access by minors?  Who is held accountable for violations?

Ultimately, it will be up to our lawmakers to establish a regulatory framework that addresses public safety, and Texans Standing Tall will be working to make sure future policies address prevention and limit youth access.

As we continue to follow the issue, we will keep everyone updated on what we learn. So, if you haven’t already, make sure to follow us on social media, subscribe to our newsletter, or reach out to us at any time with questions or for more information. And, if you’re alarmed about how these delivery apps increase youth access and would like to get involved by providing testimony during any hearings on the topic, contact Atalie at ANitibhon@TexansStandingTall.org.

Alcohol vs. Athletes

Research indicates that student athletes are a population that is at risk for alcohol use—81 percent of college student-athletes used alcohol in the past year, and 62 percent used alcohol in the past month (NCAA, 2014). When the vast majority of student-athletes are using alcohol on a regular basis, we have a problem.

Some factors that contribute to student-athlete alcohol use include stress from the dual roles that they play on campus and the increased scrutiny they receive, overexposure to social settings that promote alcohol use, and challenges related to having less contact with their central support networks. All students, including athletes, also tend to overestimate the alcohol use of their peers and underestimate their own alcohol use, which contributes to a drinking culture on campus.

In addition to the negative consequences of drinking that can affect all students, such as unplanned sexual activity, combination drug use, and binge drinking, college student-athletes have other reasons to avoid using alcohol.

When talking about athletes specifically, there are a number of reasons alcohol use is concerning. In addition to concerns about physical and mental well-being of the students, alcohol hinders an athlete’s performance.

Alcohol Damages the Heart. Intense exercise increases your heart rate. Drinking alcohol even two days before exercising causes additional stress on the heart and can result in unusual heart rhythms (Drink Aware, 2014). 

Alcohol Harms Muscle Growth. Alcohol use cancels out gains from a workout. Chronic alcohol use can damage long-term performance by causing muscle damage, muscle loss, and muscle weakness; even short-term alcohol use can impede muscle growth. This muscle loss and weakness is known as myopathy. Myopathy can affect all muscles – such as those in your arms, legs, and heart – in a way that can harm athletic abilities (University Health Center, 2014).

Exercising With a Hangover Decreases Performance. When exercising, the body must continuously remove lactic acid. After drinking, a person’s liver is working hardest to rid the body of the toxic by-products of alcohol and cannot remove the lactic acid. This causes a feeling of fatigue, which lowers athletic performance (Drink Aware, 2014).

Alcohol Causes Dehydration. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it makes the kidneys produce more urine and can cause the athlete’s body to become dehydrated. Staying hydrated helps blood flow so it can carry oxygen and nutrients to the muscles (Drink Aware, 2014). When dehydrated, an athlete may experience low energy, low endurance, cramps, muscle pulls, muscle strains, and muscle loss. Full recovery from dehydration can take up to a week (UC San Diego Intercollegiate Athletics).                                                                                                                                             

Alcohol Hurts Athletic Performance. Alcohol is linked with a loss of balance, reaction time, memory, and accuracy of fine motor skills (Vella & Cameron-Smith, 2010). Drinking alcohol leads to slower running and cycling times, weakens the heart’s ability to pump, impairs temperature regulation, decreases grip strength and jump height, lowers stamina, and reduces strength and power (Kozir & American College of Sports Medicine).

For college student-athletes, avoiding dangerous alcohol use can benefit their performance in and out of the classroom. Through sensible alcohol policies and educational campaigns that challenge students’ misperceptions, colleges can help prevent alcohol use among student-athletes.

For more information, check out our Athletes vs. Alcohol handout here.