Alcohol outlets and bars can increase the risks of traffic crashes and assaults among youngsters, a new study has revealed.
As part of the study, researchers obtained non-public hospital discharge data from the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, including residential zip code and patient age for all patients discharged.
Ninety-nine percent of the injury records were successfully mapped to zip codes. Population demographics, place characteristics, and data related to alcohol outlets were also collected from various sources, and modeled in relation to two age groups: underage youth between 18 and 20 years of age, and of-age young adults 21 to 29 years of age.
Paul J. Gruenewald, senior research scientist at the Prevention Research Center and corresponding author for the study, said: "Over the past four decades, public health researchers have come to recognize that although most drinkers safely purchase and enjoy alcohol from alcohol outlets, these places are also associated with serious alcohol-related problems among young people and adults."
Richard Scribner, D'Angelo Professor of Alcohol Research at the LSU School of Public Health, added: "In the early studies, researchers believed associations were due to increased alcohol consumption related to higher alcohol outlet densities.
"However, as the research area has matured, the relations appear to be far more complex. It seems that alcohol outlets represent an important social institution within a neighborhood. As a result, their effects are not limited to merely the consequences of the sale of alcohol."
Gruenewald said: "Greater numbers of off-premise outlets such as take-out establishments were associated with greater injuries from accidents, assaults, and traffic crashes for both underage and of-age young adults.
"But only among of-age young adults were greater number of restaurants related to traffic crash injuries and greater numbers of bars related to assault injuries.
"These findings confirm previous observations that drinking at bars may be a particular risk for aggression and alcohol-related assaults while drinking at restaurants may be a particular risk for drunken driving and alcohol-related traffic crashes. The findings also confirm prior studies that indicate underage risks are uniquely associated with off-premise establishments."
Scribner added: ""In other words the pattern of alcohol-related injuries among underage youth and young adults is not random; their occurrence is shaped by the density and type of alcohol outlets in a neighborhood. For example, when young adults reach the minimum legal drinking age, they begin legally drinking in bars where events such as bar fights are relatively common, and more likely when the density of bars increases.
"A little more complex is the strong association between an increasing density of off-premise outlets such as convenience stores and liquor stores, and higher rates of all injury outcomes among both underage youth and young adults.
"The authors indicate this association may be related to broader social factors where the concentration of these types of alcohol outlets in a neighborhood influences the social networks of both youth and young adults by reinforcing high-risk drinking practices. Clearly this type of research can help to develop informed policy in areas where high rates of youth injuries are considered a problem."
He concluded: "From a prevention perspective, this represents an important refocusing of priorities, away from targeting the individual to targeting the community.
"This is hopeful because a community-based approach that addresses the over concentration of alcohol outlets in a neighborhood where youth injuries are a problem is relatively easy compared with interventions targeting each youth individually."