233699 United States National Minimum Legal Drinking Age of 21: A Public Health Success

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Toben F. Nelson, ScD , Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN
Traci L. Toomey, PhD , Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN
Kathleen Lenk, MPH , School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN
Henry Wechsler, PhD , Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA
In 1984 President Ronald Reagan signed into law 23 USC µ158, The National Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA) Act. This law established a uniform minimum age to purchase and possess alcoholic beverages across the 50 United States. Prior to enacting this law, the legal drinking age varied across states. Following enactment of the MDLA, drinking behavior and alcohol-involved traffic fatalities declined dramatically across the United States among youth under age 21. Considerable research involving various study designs has been conducted to assess the effectiveness of a drinking age of 21 for reducing drinking and is associated problems compared to lower thresholds both prior to and following the national MLDA law. Members of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs section of American Public Health Association have been major contributors to this research. Numerous reviews of this literature have been conducted and they consistently conclude that the MLDA of 21 has led to reduced alcohol consumption and alcohol-related injuries and mortality. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that the MLDA of 21 has saved more than 800 lives each year. The MDLA of 21 is a documented public health success and an important tool to combat heavy drinking in the United States. Despite the success of the MLDA heavy drinking among underage youth, as well as adults, remains a significant public health concern. Continued efforts are needed to address alcohol-related morbidity and mortality.

Learning Areas:
Public health or related public policy
Public health or related research

Learning Objectives:
Attendees will be able to describe the history of the Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA), the impact the MLDA has had on public health, and the need for it to continue as public policy.

Keywords: Alcohol, History

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: Researcher in alcohol epidemiology, the MLDA
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.