Kiwis are prolific pre-loaders, study finds, even though we're not heavy drinkers

Study shows Kiwis like to pre-load. No surprises there.
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Study shows Kiwis like to pre-load. No surprises there.

An international study reckons young adult Kiwi drinkers are near the top of the table for pre-loading with alcoholic drinks before going out, even though we're not much inclined to be heavy drinkers.

The pre-loading data comes from 65,126 people from 25 countries who took part in the annual, anonymous, online Global Drug Survey for 2015.

Overall, 62.6 per cent of those in the study were pre-loaders. In New Zealand the figure was 78.7 per cent, behind leading pre-loader Ireland on 85.4 per cent, and also trailing Canada and Norway. Lowest pre-loader among the 25 countries in the study was Greece, with 17.7 per cent.

Other countries with high levels of pre-loading - around the mid-70 percentages - were the UK, Sweden, Spain, Netherlands, Finland and Denmark. The USA and Australia were  in the mid-60s.

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The study confirmed the assumption that the practice of pre-loading was "prolific", the authors said. 

While pre-loading might look like any other social drinking occasion, "it usually precedes another drinking occasion where more alcohol is usually consumed, resulting in the consumption of particularly large amounts of alcohol over the night".

"Country-specific measures might be taken to change the cultural acceptance of pre-drinking by raising people's awareness that pre-drinking is no ordinary social occasion," the authors suggested.

New Zealand's bright young clubbers might be surprised to find the difference in this country between drinks bought at clubs and bars (on-premise), and those bought for drinking somewhere else (off-premise) was comparatively small.

New Zealanders may be classed as "pre-loaders" but that's not necessarily because it's expensive to drink out.
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New Zealanders may be classed as "pre-loaders" but that's not necessarily because it's expensive to drink out.

According to the study, on-premise drinks are 2.6 times more expensive than those bought for drinking off-premise in New Zealand. That's not too far from the smallest difference of 1.9 found in Colombia, and considerably below the 5.2 in Greece. Only five of the 25 countries in the study had a smaller difference than New Zealand.

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Researchers had expected pre-loading levels to be higher in countries with the greatest difference between prices of drinks bought in bars and clubs, and those bought for drinking off-premise. And while that has often been given as a reason for pre-loading, that relationship didn't turn out to be particularly strong.

Hardly surprisingly, they found a stronger connection between the prevalence of drinkers in a country and pre-loading. In contrast, no significant association was found between pre-loading and the rate of heavy drinking.

New Zealand was right at the bottom of the list for heavy drinking, with 5.6 per cent of drinkers classed as heavy drinkers. Top of the list was Finland at 53.7 per cent.

Intriguing links were found when researchers looked at three factors together: pre-loading, the ratio between on-premise and off-premise prices, and the prevalence of heavy drinking.

It turns out pre-loading is more likely in countries with more heavy drinkers - but only when there isn't much difference in the price between on-premise and off-premise drinks.

The researchers scratched their heads to come up with an explanation.

They suggested that in countries where heavy drinking is more common and drink prices aren't much higher in bars and nightclubs than off-premise, people might be more likely to drink alcohol both on-premise and off-premise. That's because continuing to drink doesn't cost much more in the bars and clubs than it costs off-premise. In that scenario the percentage of pre-loaders goes up.

As on-premise drinks become comparatively more expensive than those drunk off-premise, the relationship between pre-loading and the prevalence of heavy drinking appears to reverse.

"It is possible, in countries where the price ratio is high, some people would rather drink (heavily) only off-premise without going out afterwards," the study said. So, because people aren't going on to a bar or club after drinking, technically they aren't pre-loading - just drinking.

The prevalence of heavy drinkers - defined as 60 or more grams of pure alcohol on at least one occasion at least monthly - and the prevalence of all drinkers, was taken from World Health Organisation country profiles.

Those in the survey who said they were "completely sober" when they arrived at the first bar or nightclub on a night out were classified as not pre-loaders. Those who'd already had "a bit of alcohol" or "a lot of alcohol" were considered to be pre-loaders. 

To work out the ratio between the price of alcohol at bars and clubs, and that bought off-premise, researchers used two websites that compare beer prices. Not enough data was available to do the same with wine and spirit prices, but the study authors said beer prices were an adequate proxy for all alcoholic drinks.

Study authors include Florian Labhart from the Addiction Switzerland Research Institute, and Jason Ferris from the Institute for Social Science Research at Queensland University. The research is being published in Drug and Alcohol Review.

 - Stuff

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