Looking at the reasons why young men drink and swim is the focus of new Griffith research which aims to reduce the number of drownings.
Drowning, a largely preventable problem, continues to be a serious issue worldwide, with young men particularly at risk.
The Royal Life Saving Society National Drowning Report 2011 revealed an 11% increase on the five-year average in drowning fatalities. Due to this rise in drownings, the Australian Water Safety Strategy 2008-2011, aims to have a 50% reduction in drowning by 2020.
Although on track with persons in the 0-4 year age group, urgent work is needed within the male 18-34 group (which has seen a 3% increase in drowning deaths on the five-year average) to ensure this target is achieved.
Alcohol consumption is a known risk factor for drowning and men in this age group often engage in risk taking behaviour that is often heightened by alcohol.
Research conducted by Dr Kyra Hamilton from Griffith Health Institute’s Behaviourial Basis of Health, used questionnaires to survey 211 Australian males in the target age group, regarding the beliefs underlying their intentions to engage in drinking and swimming.
The first-of-its-kind research used The Theory of Planned Behaviour belief-based questionnaire to ask participants about their attitudes towards the intention to engage in risk-taking behaviours.
A range of beliefs were significantly correlated with males’ intentions to drink and swim, the study found.
“We found that the social context for drinking and swimming is very important for this group,” says Dr Hamilton who is presenting her research at this year’s Gold Coast Health and Medical Research Conference 2013.
“Not surprisingly, they told us that drinking provides for a more relaxed and fun time whilst swimming and that people are not really thinking about the more risky, negative aspects of the danger involved.
“Participants also told us about beliefs relating to gaining approval from friends and the potential peer pressure involved. The men stated that these were often likely factors in seeing them engage in drinking and swimming.
“We also found that this age group is more likely to indulge in swimming while intoxicated when they believe that other people are around to provide help if they encounter danger.
“Unfortunately this is a myth that does not hold true. A well-known psychological phenomenon called The Bystander Effect has shown that although people may have others around to help them in an emergency situation, this help does not always eventuate.”
Dr Hamilton says these key beliefs should provide appropriate targets for future intervention strategies.
“In order to challenge and ultimately change young males’ alcohol use in or around water, these beliefs warrant change and it is imperative that myths such as ‘people will always help me in an emergency’ are dispelled.
In conclusion, Dr Hamilton says that intervention campaigns designed to reduce drowning deaths may benefit from targeting the key beliefs revealed from this research.
“Although one of the over-riding beliefs is that alcohol provides a fun and relaxed environment, the dangers of drinking and swimming need to be heavily emphasised in order to highlight the potentially devastating consequences of such behaviour.”