- The US has one of the highest age limit – 21 years – in alcohol consumption, the so called legal drinking age 21 or LDA 21.
- 18-year old Americans are accepted as legally adult in many things except alcohol, e.g. driving, voting, enlisting, employment, to name a few.
- The high legal drinking age limit supposedly encourages secret and dangerous drinking behaviour (e.g. binge drinking) among college students.
One of the main reasons behind the LDA 21 in the US is to prevent drunken driving among young adults.
A recent study by researchers at the University of Georgia shows that lowering the LDA to say, 18, may have some other consequences aside from increased incidence of vehicular accidents. The researchers looked at birth records and alcohol use data from 1978 to 1988, a decade when the LDA in certain US states (including Gerogia) was 18. The results of the study showed that LDA 18:
- Increases prenatal alcohol consumption among 18- to 20-year-old women by 21 percent;
- Increases the number of births to 18- to 20-year-olds by 4.6 percent in white women and 3.9 percent in 18- to 20-year-old African-American women;
- Increases the likelihood of women under age 21 having a low-birth weight baby by 6 percent (4 percent for white women and 8 percent for African-American women); and
- Increases the likelihood of premature birth by 5 percent in white women under age 18 and by 7 percent in African-American women under age 18.
The poor health outcomes in infants are not related to the so-called alcohol fetal syndrome but rather to increased risky sexual behaviour that resulted in higher rates of unwanted pregnancies among young women. Unwanted pregnancies are associated with poor birth outcomes because the mothers are less likely to take care of themselves or seek prenatal care. This link between lower LDA and unwanted pregnancies was more pronounced in African-American women who showed a 25% increase in unplanned pregnancies during the LDA18 years.
Last year, the Amethyst Initiative which was a group composed of more than 100 college and university presidents and chancellors supported the initiative to lower the LDA.
Lead researcher Angela Fertig said her study broadens the debate by adding a new dimension that until now has not been considered.