WEDNESDAY, Aug. 20, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- If you're a minor or already drunk, many vendors in American sports stadiums will still gladly sell you a beer or other alcoholic beverage.
That's the finding from a new study that suggests stadiums aren't doing enough to keep booze away from those who shouldn't drink.
People who clearly appeared underage were able to buy alcohol 18 percent of the time at 16 professional sport stadiums in five states, and actors who seemed to be drunk were able to make purchases nearly three-fourths of the time.
"Professional sports stadiums are another place where there's a great likelihood of illegal alcohol sales," said study author Traci Toomey, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. "We know that we have problems with fans drinking too much and contributing to problems in and around stadiums. We need to make sure we prevent these illegal sales from occurring."
The study authors launched the study in the wake of previous research into illegal alcohol sales and media reports about alcohol-related incidents at stadiums.
The researchers recruited two men and five women who were older than 21 but were judged by a panel to appear between 18 and 20. The study authors also hired four actors -- two women, two men -- to act as if they were drunk.
From September 2005 to November 2006, the study participants visited stadiums in five states and tried to buy alcohol. Selling alcohol to minors is illegal, and it's against the law in some places to sell alcohol to people who are already intoxicated.
The study authors don't identify the stadiums, mainly to prevent word spreading on where it's easiest to illegally buy alcohol. However, they said the stadiums housed professional hockey, basketball, baseball and football teams.
The findings appear in the November issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
Vendors who worked in the stands were almost three times more likely to sell booze to the participants as vendors in concession booths, the team found.
"I would imagine these vendors are under quite a bit of pressure, trying to not block the views of others, trying to pay attention," Toomey said of alcohol sellers who work in the stands. "They don't have the time or proximity [to buyers] to make observations necessary to avoid making an illegal sale."
The study authors suggested that stadiums consider banning the sale of alcohol in the stands. Some stadiums have already done so, according to the researchers.
Henry Wechsler, a longtime researcher at Harvard School of Public Health who studies alcohol use, agreed that stadiums should reconsider selling alcohol in the stands.
"You just have to attend a sports event to see that some fans drink too much and spoil the event for others through loud, disruptive and drunken behavior," he said. "Limiting serving to the booths could make drinkers walk and stand on line between drinks, cutting down the number they consume."
Find out more on problem drinking at the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.