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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Internet review From: Health Education, Volume 108, Issue 5
On the 19 May 2008, the UK Government launched a £10 million advertising campaign called “Know Your Limits”. The stated aim of this campaign is to reduce binge drinking in the over 25s by reminding social drinkers to remain within the recommended limits. The assumption, on which this campaign is based, is that many drinkers, and by this we do not mean those with a drink problem, are regularly consuming more than the suggested limits. It is further argued that one of the main reasons for this is that people simply do not know how much they are drinking.
When the UK Government first introduced the unit system of measuring alcohol intake in 1971, a pint of beer typically contained 3 per cent alcohol and this equated to 2 units of alcohol. A glass of white wine, which was then 9 per cent alcohol, was defined as 1 unit. However, since the 1970s the alcoholic strength of drinks has increased and the measures served may now be much larger. For example measures of wine, served in bars or restaurants, are as much as a third more now than they were in the past. Unfortunately people still tend to equate a “glass” of wine with 1 unit, and a pint of beer with 2 units. So even if a person thinks they know what the unit guidelines are, it is still very easy to consume more units of alcohol than is recommended. The recommendations themselves are quite simple, men should not consume more than 21 units per week and women 14, and within a seven-day period there should be a few alcohol free days. So if the message is simple why is there a £10 million problem?
In the internet age, when the world is awash with information about every conceivable topic, is it really true that people remain ignorant about how much alcohol they are consuming? If this is the case then the internet has a very real role to play in educating consumers of alcohol. In this review we look at how well the internet is meeting this challenge.
Know Your Limits
The Know Your Limits is part of the NHS Choices web site that is funded by the National Health Service in the UK. Credibility of the information source therefore is not an issue with this resource but after some rather disappointing experiences with NHS Online I was not expecting much from a usability or design perspective. However it seems that NHS web designers have been paying attention and this web site is a thoroughly good example of how web designers should be exploiting the potential that Internet technology has to offer.
On opening this web site the user is faced with a very clever piece of design in the form of a virtual bar. Behind the bar is a complete range of drinks including beers, wines and spirits. But this is not just a static display; very good Flash animation is used to create some very interesting effects. As the user moves their cursor over the image, different aspects of the image move in and out of focus. For example moving the cursor over a bottle of sparkling wine on the back shelf not only brings it into focus but a click on the bottle reveals the number of units for a typical glass size of that beverage. Although the drinks themselves are not labelled explicitly, it is quite easy for the user to guess the type of drink on display and thus identify the number of units attributed to that drink. This is a very interesting and original way to provide this type of information.
For the user who prefers to access information in a rather more familiar format, the website also has a section that presents this information in the form of a table. This is quite good because the units associated with a variety of different strengths of the same drink are shown. For example beer ranges in strength from the low alcohol types with 1.1 units per pint, up to the super strength beers where a single pint may have a many as 5.1 units. Similarly the wines shown vary in strength from 10 per cent up to 14 per cent alcohol, with the different numbers of units associated with each, all displayed.
For the user who wants to take this a stage further, the web site provides a unit calculator. After selecting a drink and indicating how many you have had, the calculator shows the user how many units they will have consumed. In many ways this is the most important part of this web site in that it is the cumulative effects of drinking that is particularly hazardous to health.
As well as these more dynamic aspects of the web site, information is also offered in more traditional ways. Text based information pages provide guidance on how to avoid drinking to excess. There is information on avoiding alcohol during pregnancy and a DrinkCheck quiz where the user can examine their own drinking habits.
This is an excellent web site, the content is of a high standard, and the design and implementation have been given a great deal of consideration. Certainly a good starting point for people concerned about their level of alcohol consumption.
BUPA Healthy Living
This is basically a one-page website presented in the form of a weekly diary into which users can enter their daily alcohol consumption. Down the left side of the page are the days of the week and across the top different types of drinks including beer, wine, spirits, cocktails and “others”. The user simply enters the number of different types of drinks they consume over a seven-day period and these are then converted into units. As well as being informed exactly how many units of alcohol they have consumed the user is also informed about the potential health hazards associated with their particular level of drinking.
While this website is very easy to use, unfortunately it does suffer from the problem highlighted by the UK Government “Know Your Limits” initiative, in that it does not differentiate between drinks of different strengths. Nor does it indicate the size of the drinks being consumed. These inadequacies are just the sort of thing that can persuade people that they are drinking at a safe level when in fact they are not. It is difficult to know when this web site was designed since the copyright indication starts in 1996 and finishes in 2008. Given recent thinking about offering alcohol guidance in the form of units, I suspect this web site was probably conceived nearer 1996 than 2008. The simplicity of design is an advantage but not if it means the quality of information presented is compromised. This web site is in urgent need of a refit.
Look Out! Alcohol
It could be argued that if you want adults to know about the complexities of the unit system of alcohol measurement then it is probably a good idea to teaching the subject when they are children. “Look Out! Alcohol” is a web site that attempts to do just this. Designed for children of seven to 11 years old, their parents/carers and teachers, this web site uses the medium of an Internet game to help get the message across. As they play the game, which involves finding and photographing small friendly aliens, children will find lots of information about alcohol. Needless to say, as with all computer games designed for seven year olds, I could not fathom out this one at all! Nevertheless, in my struggles to figure out what I was supposed to be doing I did come across a wide variety of resources dealing with the problems of drinking to excess. The resources have been designed for young people and the content reflects this. Although the meaning of units of alcohol is not discussed as such, there is an attractive unit calculator designed to look like a roulette wheel with different types of drinks around the periphery and a small display widow in the centre. When a child clicks on a particular drink, the wheel spins round and when it stops the number of units in four different sizes of serving is displayed. Thus the child learns that a small glass of red wine has 1.5 units of alcohol and if they drink four glasses of wine they will be consuming 6 units, exceeding the recommended daily maximum. This is a simple game but it will be attractive to youngsters in this age group and does get the message over quite effectively.
The web site also provides information aimed specifically at parents and teachers. For example parents can read about the best time to start discussing alcohol related matters with their children and teachers can download lesson plans and other resources to help them teach young people about alcohol. There are even downloadable evaluation forms for teachers and children to complete so they can evaluate the web site. Unfortunately once they have done this it is not clear what they should do with the completed form. An address is provided but it is not clear if this is the address to which the form should be sent. It is a pity about this because it does detract from what otherwise would be an excellent web site and educational resource.