Alcohol advertising may contribute to increased drinking among young people

Young people who view more alcohol advertisements tend to drink more alcohol, according to a new study in the January issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA Archives journals.

Young people are beginning to drink at an earlier age than ever before and their actions can have consequences ranging from poor grades to alcoholism and car accidents, according to background information in the article. Several studies have found an association between exposure to alcohol advertisements and youth drinking, but have not been able to establish causality, the authors write. The alcohol industry has no federal restrictions on its advertising but is subject to voluntary codes dictating that 70 percent of the audience for their advertisements be adults older than age 21. The authors report that these ads still appear frequently in media aimed at young people.

Leslie B. Snyder, Ph.D., of the University of Connecticut, Storrs, and colleagues interviewed a random sample of young people aged 15 to 26 years in 24 U.S. media markets four times between 1999 and 2001. The researchers interviewed 1,872 young people in the first wave, 1,173 of the same respondents in the second, 787 in the third and 588 in the fourth.

Young adults who reported viewing more alcohol advertisements on average also reported drinking more alcohol on average--each additional advertisement viewed per month increased the number of drinks consumed by 1 percent. The same percentage increase, 1 percent per advertisement per month, applied to underage drinkers (those younger than age 21) as well.

The authors also analyzed youth drinking in relation to advertising dollars spent in respondents' media markets, based on information purchased from an industry source. They also purchased information about total alcohol sales in each state. "It is important to control for total alcohol consumption levels because markets with greater sales may attract more alcohol advertising from brands competing to sell in markets with more heavy drinkers," they write. Even with this control, young people drank 3 percent more per month for each additional dollar spent per capita in their market. Youth in markets with high advertising expenditures ($10 or more per person per month) also increased their drinking more over time, reaching a peak of 50 drinks per month by age 25.

"Given that there was an impact on drinking using an objective measure of advertising expenditures, the results are inconsistent with the hypothesis that a correlation between advertising exposure and drinking could be caused entirely by selective attention on the part of drinkers," the authors report. "The results also contradict claims that advertising is unrelated to youth drinking amounts: that advertising at best causes brand switching, only affects those older than the legal drinking age or is effectively countered by current educational efforts. Alcohol advertising was a contributing factor to youth drinking quantities over time."

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(Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2006;160:18-24. Available pre-embargo to the media at www.jamamedia.org.)

Editor's Note: This study was funded by a grant from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Bethesda, Md., to Dr. Snyder.

Editorial: Reduce Exposure to Alcohol Advertising to Reduce Underage Drinking

In an accompanying editorial, David H. Jernigan, Ph.D., of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., comments on the study on youth drinking and exposure to alcohol advertising.

"The work of Snyder et al marks the first time that a national longitudinal sample of young people in the United States has been studied and the first time that self-reported exposure has been complemented by an objective measure of how much alcohol advertising is available in the media environment in which young people live," Dr. Jernigan writes.

The paper "calls into question the industry's argument that its roughly $1.8 billion in measured media expenditures per year have no impact on underage drinking. The fact that young people, regardless of drinking behavior at baseline, were more likely to drink more over time in environments with more alcohol advertising, even when controlling for alcohol sales in those environments, suggests that it is exposure to alcohol advertising that contributes to the drinking, rather than the reverse."

These and other recent findings, Dr. Jernigan writes, "point to alcohol advertising as an important arena for interventions seeking to reduce underage drinking and its tragic consequences." (Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2006;160:100-101. Available pre-embargo to the media at www.jamamedia.org.)

Editor's Note: The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth is supported by grants from the Pew Charitable Trusts, Philadelphia, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Princeton, N.J.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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