This is a plain English summary of an original research article
An alcohol misuse prevention programme reduced the number of 12 to 14-year-old school pupils reporting “binge” drinking 33 months after the course. The difference was 9% compared with usual education (26% vs 17%).
The NIHR-funded Steps Towards Alcohol Misuse Prevention Programme (STAMPP) was tested in a large trial in 105 schools in Northern Ireland and Scotland. It involved around 14 lessons spread over two years and a presentation evening with parents to reinforce the school lessons. Parental uptake of the presentation evening was so low that this part probably had no impact on the main findings.
Overall, pupils receiving STAMPP were 40% less likely to self-report drinking 6.5 or more units in a single episode for boys, or 4.5 units or more for girls, in the last 30 days.
No differences were found for self-reported behaviours like getting in trouble with the police or A&E attendance, nullifying anticipated societal cost savings. Qualitative research showed that teachers found it easy to deliver and students liked the content. The intervention was relatively cheap at £15 per pupil.
STAMPP, or an adapted version, could be considered by local services as an option to reduce binge drinking.
Why was this study needed?
In England in 2015, 38% of 11 to 15-year-olds had tried alcohol, while in Scotland in 2014, the figures were 32% of 13-year-olds and 70% for 15-year-olds.
National surveys show underage drinking is declining across the UK but remains high in some parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland.
UK teenagers are also among the most likely in Europe to report frequently drinking heavily and being drunk. This can damage their health, school attainment and general wellbeing immediately and in the future.
Research from 2014 showed a school-based alcohol misuse prevention programme, called SHAHRP, had been effective in Australia.
This large trial adapted SHAHRP by adding a brief parental intervention and aimed to evaluate whether it worked in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
What did this study do?
This cluster randomised controlled trial randomised 105 schools in Northern Ireland and Glasgow/Inverclyde Education Authority areas.
Half the schools (52 schools, 6,379 pupils) received the STAMPP alcohol prevention programme and the rest received education as normal (53 schools, 6,359 pupils). Pupils were 12 to 14 years old.
The STAMPP involves school-based learning and skills development in alcohol harm reduction in 14 to 15 sessions over two years and a brief parental presentation evening aiming to ensure consistency at home and school. The classroom component was delivered by trained teachers in two phases over two years, and the parental component was a presentation delivered by a facilitator at specially arranged parent evenings on school premises. This was followed up a few weeks later by a posted information leaflet. The trial also looked at the costs and cost-effectiveness of the programme.
The trial was large and likely to be reliable. However, it may have under-estimated drinking related outcomes as it relied on pupils accurately self-reporting illegal under-age drinking and socially undesirable behaviours, like fighting.
What did it find?
- Uptake of the school-based component of STAMPP was high and well-received by pupils and teachers. By contrast, the parental-component had such low uptake that the implementation was deemed to have failed. The results predominately reflect the school-based competent of STAMPP only.
- Self-reported heavy episodic drinking in the last 30 days (classed as male students consuming 6 units or more and female students 4.5 units or more of alcohol in a single episode) was 9% lower in those receiving the STAMPP compared with those receiving education as normal at 33-month follow-up (26% vs 17%, p<0.001). Eleven students need to receive the intervention for one to report no binges in the previous month.
- This meant at almost 3 years pupils receiving the STAMPP were 40% less likely to report a heavy drinking episode in the last 30 days compared with those receiving their usual education (odds ratio 0.60, 95% confidence interval 0.49 to 0.73).
- There were no differences in self-reported harms caused by pupils’ own drinking, such as getting into fights after drinking, poorer school performance and trouble with friends and family (mean average 1.3 incidents in the intervention group versus 1.4 in the control group). As nearly two-thirds of participants reported no harms, the study authors commented that this may not have been an adequately sensitive measure for 12 to 14-year-olds.
- Average cost of the STAMPP was £818 per school and £15 per pupil. As no lowering in self-reported harms from alcohol were observed, there were no savings to the wider public sector, such as in policing or hospital A&E. Average cost of just the school-based component was £692 per school and £13 per pupil.
What does current guidance say on this issue?
NICE has a pathway on preventing alcohol-use disorders that includes school-based interventions.
This provides relevant guidance on education programmes, advice on what to do for pupils thought to be drinking harmful amounts of alcohol and achieving local partnerships such as with children’s services and the police.
The pathway recommendations are based on studies from NICE’s Effective Interventions Library, which includes reference to the original SHAHRP study from Australia, among others.
NICE are currently in the process of producing new guidelines on alcohol interventions in schools but have not yet specified an expected publication date.
What are the implications?
The STAMPP intervention, as implemented in this trial, appears promising for those seeking to reduce heavy drinking in pupils aged 12 to 14 with a modest cost. It is not clear whether this reduction is carried through into later adolescence or adulthood.
NICE have already incorporated the Australian SHAHRP study into their current guidelines, and the partial implementation of STAMPP in this trial means it more closely resembled the original SHAHRP intervention than planned.
Trialling this intervention in areas of the UK with high under-age drinking, might be a useful next step and could help to better quantify the potential impact on UK health or societal costs.
Citation and Funding
Sumnall H, Agus A, Cole J, et al. Steps Towards Alcohol Misuse Prevention Programme (STAMPP): a school- and community-based cluster randomised controlled trial. Public Health Res. 2017;5(2).
This project was funded by the National Institute for Health Research Public Health Research programme (project number 10/3002/09). The Public Health Agency of Northern Ireland and Education Boards of Glasgow/Inverclyde provided some intervention costs. Diageo – “a global leader in beverage alcohol” - provided funds to print some workbooks. The remaining intervention costs were internally funded.
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