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Researchers uncover disparities in access to alcohol: poorer urban areas have more alcohol outlets

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Friday 31 July 2009 4:49pm

While the Law Commission prepares its review of the regulatory framework for the sale and supply of alcohol - and just as it has released its issues paper on the subject - health researchers find that New Zealanders are subject to dramatic variations in access to alcohol outlets depending on whether they live in poor or affluent neighbourhoods.

Their findings, published in the international journal Health & Place, are that people who live in lower decile neighbourhoods are exposed to a greater density of alcohol outlets, within closer proximity, than people who live in higher decile neighbourhoods.

In other words, those of us who reside in deprived urban areas live closer to pubs, bars, clubs and off-licenses than do those residing in more affluent areas.

The research project, undertaken by the University of Otago's Injury Prevention Research Unit (IPRU), set out to assess whether proximity to alcohol outlets varied by an area's socioeconomic 'deprivation' status, measured with the New Zealand Deprivation Index.

To do this it examined, for all of New Zealand, neighbourhood-sized sections of census area units called meshblocks for alcohol outlet density (outlets per census area) and physical access to alcohol outlets (travel distance by road to the nearest outlet).

The study also examined urban and rural areas separately to avoid the risk of masking regional variation.

The researchers found that the mean travel distance to the nearest alcohol outlet (of any type) varied by neighbourhood deprivation, with travel distance being 50% greater in the least deprived compared to the most deprived areas.

"The overall pattern was of easier access to off-licenses, pubs, and clubs in more deprived neighbourhoods," says Principal Investigator Dr Kypros Kypri, an IPRU Research Associate and a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Newcastle's School of Medicine & Public Health.

"In terms of travel distance and access to alcohol outlets," say the investigators, "residents in more deprived urban areas do not need access to a car to purchase alcohol as outlets are well within walking distance."

"This contrasts dramatically with the situation in some other countries, such as Australia, where alcohol is less accessible," says Dr Kypri.

The research also distinguished between outlet type (bar and pubs, restaurants, clubs, and off-licenses) in order to better understand interactions between the different types of outlet and the area where it was located.

This distinction enabled the researchers to conclude that the association between area deprivation and alcohol outlet in urban areas is strongest for bars and pubs, amounting to an average decrease in travel distance of 112m per deprivation decile for those types of license outlets.

This is in light of international research that shows an association between outlet type (i.e., bottle stores, restaurants, bars) and harms, with an increased density of bars being strongly associated with greater rates of assault. In contrast, higher densities of restaurants are associated with more drink-driving.

The project is comparable to a study undertaken in California where alcohol outlets are also more heavily concentrated in poor urban areas yet, conversely, per-capita alcohol consumption is higher in wealthier areas.

The researchers point out that unhealthy use of alcohol is increasing in many countries and remains a leading contributor to the global burden of disease, accounting for 3.2 per cent of all deaths and 4 per cent of disability-adjusted life years in 2000.

The authors conclude that "authorities that design or administer liquor licensing and land use legislation should consider the probable public health risk posed by permitting increasing numbers of alcohol outlets, and in particular, bars and off-license outlets, in more deprived areas."

The paper presenting the complete research findings, "Neighbourhood deprivation and access to alcohol outlets: A national study" will appear in the next issue of Health & Place.

For further information, please contact:

Dr Kypros Kypri
Senior Research Fellow
School of Medicine & Public Health
University of Newcastle

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