Preventive interventions for adolescents are an important priority within school systems. Several interventions have been developed, but the effectiveness of such interventions varies considerably between studies. The purpose of this study was to assess the effectiveness of universal school-based prevention programs on alcohol use among adolescents by using meta-analytic techniques.
A systematic literature search in the databases, PubMed (Medline), PsycINFO (Ovid), EMBASE (Ovid) and WEB of Science (ISI) was conducted to search for empirical articles published in the period January 1990 to August 2014.
In total, 28 randomized controlled studies with 39,289 participants at baseline were included. Of these 28 articles, 12 studies (N = 16279) reported continuous outcomes (frequency of alcohol use and quantity of alcohol use), and 16 studies (N = 23010) reported categorical data (proportion of students who drank alcohol). The results of the random effects analyses showed that the overall effect size among studies reporting continuous outcomes was small and demonstrated a favorable effect from the preventive interventions (Hedges’ = 0.22, p < .01). The effect size among studies reporting categorical outcomes was not significant ( = 0.94, p = .25). The level of heterogeneity between studies was found to be significant in most analyses. Moderator analyses conducted to explore the heterogeneity showed neither significant difference between the different school levels (junior high schools and high schools), nor between the varied program intensities (low, medium and high intensity programs). The meta-regression analyses examining continuous moderators showed no significant effects for age or gender.
The findings from this meta-analysis showed that, overall, the effects of school-based preventive alcohol interventions on adolescent alcohol use were small but positive among studies reporting the continuous measures, whereas no effect was found among studies reporting the categorical outcomes. Possible population health outcomes, with recommendations for policy and practice, are discussed further in this paper.