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Did changes in minimum age drinking laws affect adolescent drowning (1970–90)?
  1. Jonathan Howland1,
  2. Johanna Birckmayer2,
  3. David Hemenway3,
  4. Jennifer Cote1
  1. 1Boston University School of Public Health
  2. 2Health Policy Program, Harvard University, Boston
  3. 3Harvard School of Public Health, Boston
  1. Correspondence to: Dr Jonathan Howland, Social and Behavioral Sciences Department, Room W-251, Boston University School of Public Health, 715 Albany Street, Boston, MA 0211, USA.


Objective—To test the hypothesis that changes in the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) laws would affect drowning among adolescents, the effects of changes in state MLDA laws on drowning were examined for the targeted (18–20 years) and two adjacent (15–17 years and 21–23 years) age groups, over a period of 21 years (1970–90).

Methods—Poisson maximum likelihood regression was used to estimate the effects of both lowering and increasing the MLDA. The dependent variable in these analyses was the number of drownings per state per year for the age groups observed. At first only state and year effects were controlled for and then any other variable potentially associated with the incidence of drowning was included. The other control variables included proportion of population living near border states with lower MLDA laws, urbanicity, unemployment, divorce, education, poverty, beer tax, and proxy measures for MLDA law enforcement.

Results—No significant association between drowning and MLDA was found for any of the age groups studied.

Conclusion—It is concluded that MLDA laws are not an important public policy strategy for affecting drowning rates among adolescents and young adults.

  • adolescents
  • alcohol
  • drinking laws
  • drowning

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