You Decide is a campaign that launched in January 2012 to curb underage drinking. Independent research undertaken on this comprehensive and integrated initiative developed by South African Breweries (SAB), the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), and the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA), suggests that it is starting to have an impact.
"For a company like ours that looks for ways to assist and uplift youth through brand-funded programmes, You Decide is a dream brief. We see on the ground and from formal teacher feedback reports how it works, but we wanted third party validation of the behavioural change
it can affect," says Jason Levin, Managing Director of HDI Youth Marketeers.
The alcohol use and abuse behaviour in the communities to be visited by the You Decide programme was benchmarked by a third party research provider, E-View, in December 2011 before it kicked off. After phase one of You Decide, HDI commissioned a follow-up study to see the changes in behaviour - albeit after a very short period of time. The aim of the survey was to establish whether or not carefully structured educational programmes such as this one, can effectively reduce the incidence of underage drinking.
The second set of fieldwork was conducted just six months after the first one, again by E-View, in June-July 2012, but some interesting results have come to light. One of the most alarming, was the fact that parents are more in denial than ever about their kids' exposure to alcohol. The number of parents who believe that their children do not drink at all has in fact gone up by 25%, in the polled communities, in the six month-period.
But, encouragingly, findings also revealed a 3% absolute, and an 8,3% relative drop in teens' alcohol consumption in communities exposed to the programme, as well as reductions in the amount consumed on each occasion. Teachers and parents both still reported inadequate support available in schools and communities for youth with drinking problems though.
Robyn Chalmers, SAB Head of Corporate Communications, says: "Underage drinking is one of the most serious forms of alcohol abuse in our country and has an overwhelmingly negative impact on South African society. We believed it was imperative to partner with government and the NYDA to implement a programme that we believe will effect real change amongst South Africa's youth. We are heartened that the You Decide programme seems to have started doing so."
There is a compelling case to tackle underage drinking, with the South African National Youth Risk Behaviour Survey undertaken four years ago showing that 49,6% of teens (grades 8-12, so ages 13-18) admitted to using alcohol. It is estimated that this has increased over the past four years.
If the numbers are chilling, the reality is even more so, and the downside involves teens fighting, stealing, missing school, giving up on sport, raping and being jailed. Underage drinking has dogged South African communities for a number of years, and recent research by UNISA's Youth Research Unit (YRU), focussing on the extent and impact of substance abuse among 4 346 Gauteng high school learners, indicates that, much higher than the national average, 87.5% of Gauteng teens drink or have friends who consume alcohol. It also shows that two thirds of learners polled agreed that underage alcohol consumption is becoming more socially acceptable.
The multi-pronged You Decide programme initially rolled out across KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Free State, with the first stakeholder and media showcase held in Durban in February 2012, hosted by MEC of Education for KZN, Senzo Mchunu. This was followed a few weeks later by a huge search light display over the city that celebrated youth's ability to save their futures.
In phase one and two, on a day-to-day basis, the campaign is driven by an industrial theatre roadshow that visits high schools to demonstrate the pitfalls of underage drinking, and then leaves it up to teens to decide for themselves. Teens, parents and teachers are all supplied material on the subject. Other elements of the campaign include teacher and community workshops; informational tavern visits; as well as a competition component which saw nearly 2 000 competition entries come in in the first round.
Results of similar campaigns in Europe and America conducted by ICAP, the International Center for Alcohol Policies, suggest that strategies focused on any one of the factors that might prove useful in curbing underage drinking are not nearly as effective as a combination strategy. Their analysis concludes that multiple interventions provide meaningful additional benefit over single ones.
Levin says, "There are no silver bullets, but as You Decide moves into its second phase, it seems we are on the right path. The problem is a serious one, and we are pleased to be part of what seems like it is a solution."