The findings have again led to calls for the Government to reconsider a ban on sports alcohol sponsorship.
Ivan Perry, of University College Cork’s department of epidemiology and public health, said that the findings of UCC PhD candidate Martin Davoren’s research showed the argument for a complete ban on sports alcohol sponsorship was now “compelling on health and economic grounds”.
Mr Davoren spent three years researching hazardous alcohol consumption by UCC students, with input from colleagues Frances Shiely, Prof Perry, and Dr Michael Byrne.
It is the largest such survey since the College Lifestyle and Attitudinal National Survey a decade ago found that males drank more than their female counterparts.
In the survey of 2,275 UCC undergraduates, Mr Davoren found that 66.4% of students reported hazardous alcohol consumption — 65.2% for men and 67.3% for women — compared to 64% amongst the general population.
Around 17% of males and 5% of females surveyed were drinking more than six units of alcohol (three pints) at least four times a week, and in some cases on a daily basis. The recommended alcohol intake per week is 17 units for men, and 11 units for women.
The findings are due to be published in the BMJ Open medical journal today.
A week after the Government dropped plans to ban alcohol sponsorship of sports events in favour of legal guidelines governing the way alcohol can be marke-ted towards children at sports events, Mr Davoren said there was now clear evidence that a sponsorship ban and minimum unit pricing were required as part of wider strategy.
“What we are now seeing is women drinking as much as men,” he said. “This finding is yet another signpost that our relationship with alcohol as a nation is unwholesome and detrimental to health.
“It impacts us all and these findings should not be seen as merely a ‘young person’, ‘student’ or ‘UCC’ issue.
“The Irish State is at a decision point with regard to policies on the promotion and marketing of alcohol.
“This study highlights the need for effective public policy measures such as a minimum unit price for alcohol and a full ban on sports sponsorship.”
The report also identified adverse consequences for those engaged in hazardous alcohol consumption, including missing days from university and affecting their academic performance, although men were more likely to report getting into a fight or having a one-night stand than women.
Dr Byrne said the State cannot be complacent in tackling the issue of alcohol-related harm in Ireland.
Mark Stanton, UCC Students’ Union president, said the study should be seen as a call to action nationally. “A national conversation needs to take place and students need to be at the heart of the discussion, not the topic of it,” he said.
A 2010 report on problem alcohol use in Ireland found the cost to the State was in the region of €3.7bn.
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