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Wauwatosa health department addresses residents' 'excessive' drinking

Aug. 20, 2014

After finding that Wauwatosa's rates of heavy and binge drinking are higher than the national averages, the city's health department is stepping in. Reducing alcohol use is the top priority in the city's 2014-2017 Community Health Improvement Plan.

Nursing Supervisor Lori Nielsen said partly due to Wauwatosa's relatively high socioeconomic status, the community rated well on several indicators of health, but fell behind nationally in terms of alcohol use.

"For communities with higher than average socioeconomic status, alcohol is the drug of choice," she said.

In a 2011 report, the health department found that about 8 percent of residents were heavily drinking every day, while 22 percent reported binge drinking with more than five drinks on a single occasion in the past month, exceeding national averages.

Because of Wisconsin's high drinking rates, Wauwatosa's results were mostly better than the state averages, except when isolating females classified as heavy drinkers. Seven percent of males were classified as heavy drinkers, meaning they had more than two drinks per day. Nine percent of females qualified, under a standard of more than one drink per day.

By 2018, the department hopes to decrease the heavy drinking rates to six percent for both genders and the binge drinking rate to 15 percent.

The department also hopes to address youth drinking. While it previously found more than 15 percent of high school students reported binge drinking in the past month, it hopes to reduce the figure to 8.5 percent by 2018.

One way department staff hope to make a dent is by working with community partners to raise money for biennial police checks of stores that sell alcohol to make sure they are checking IDs and not selling to minors. They also plan to implement programming at the high schools that teaches the consequences of drinking and driving.

In reviewing results from the school district's youth risk behavior survey, the department was alarmed to find almost a quarter of Wauwatosa teens reported riding with someone who had been drinking in the past 30 days.

Some of this trend shows up in police records. From 2007 to 2010, Wauwatosa police reported a rise in driving-while-intoxicated incidents from 165 to 217.

Nielsen said it's unclear if the teens had been driving mostly with intoxicated peers or parents. Just five percent of teens reported driving after drinking.

Aiming to decrease these incidents, the health department asked Wauwatosa police to work with the regional OWI Task Force to target drunken drivers with special task forces at least six times annually.

The health department's full health improvement plan is available on the city website at wauwatosa.net, under data and reports on the health department page.

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