Action is needed to curb or even ban the marketing of alcohol through high profile soccer matches and other sporting events, they argue.
The academics conducted a study of six games from last season that filled 18 hours of viewing time on the BBC, ITV and Sky TV.
During that time there were 2,042 visual references to alcohol of various types, mainly beer.
There were also 32 mentions of alcohol, chiefly relating to sponsoring brands, and 17 adverts.
On average, 111.3 alcohol images were shown for every hour of football broadcast – a rate of nearly two a minute.
The matches were from the Premier League, Championship, FA Cup, Champions League and Europa League.
Researcher Andy Graham, a specialty registrar in public health with the NHS in Newcastle, said: “Our findings show that young people are likely to be hugely exposed to alcoholmarketing during televised football matches and this is likely to have an influence on their attitudes to alcohol.
“We were surprised by just how many images there were during these games, it was a constant bombardment.”
Each year more than £200 million is spent on alcohol advertising, but more than £600 million on non-advert marketing which includes sports sponsorship.
The alcoholic drinks industry has an advertising code of practice that restricts associations between drinking and success or irresponsible behaviour. But it does not apply to other forms of marketing.
“There’s certainly a body of evidence that exposure to alcohol marketing affects the age that children start drinking and the amount they drink,” said co-author Dr Jean Adams, from the University of Newcastle.
“At the moment we’ve got non-legally enforced regulation which is a problem in itself. We need to consider having more enforceable regulation, but also regulation that takes into account what’s out there.
“The current regulation focuses on alcohol advertising and it doesn’t seem to be that that’s the main thing people are exposed to.”
She said a ban on alcohol marketing at sporting events “certainly should be considered”.
The findings, presented at the British Science Festival at the University of Newcastle, are published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism.
Between 2002 and 2010 rates of liver disease among British 34-year-olds soared by 400%, said Mr Graham.
He added: “This used to be a disease of the elderly, but what we’re seeing increasingly is that that age group from 30 to 34 years, who interestingly are also a target group for football and advertising within sport, are coming through more and more. We’re starting to see the same in younger age groups as well – the 20s and potentially teens. Alcohol’s a massive problem.”
Football had been wedded to alcohol throughout its history, said Mr Graham. He pointed out that the London club Tottenham Hotspur started out playing for a pub, using a field belonging to the landlord.
Dr Adams said the problem extended far beyond football.
“This is one exemplar of a wider problem with alcohol marketing and advertising,” she maintained. “I don’t have data for rugby or music festivals or all the other things thatalcohol is embedded in.”
Limits on alcohol marketing should follow the example of tobacco, say the researchers. Tobacco companies have been banned from sponsoring sporting events in the UK since 2003.
Courtesy of Press Association
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