A new study shows that middle schoolers are exposed to an average of two to four alcohol advertisements on a daily basis. The findings are concerning as research has shown that alcohol ads may encourage underage drinking.
“The evidence is strong that kids are at greater risk if they’re exposed to alcohol advertising,” says study leader Rebecca L. Collins, Ph.D., a researcher with the RAND Corporation.
She cautions parents to “be aware” that kids are surrounded by alcohol marketing. And they do notice it, she adds.
“Just know that kids’ decisions to drink don’t suddenly come up in college. Young kids are being exposed to alcohol ads all the time, and that can influence them,” she says.
The study involved 589 students, ages 11 to 14, living in and around Los Angeles. For over two weeks, the children used handheld devices to record their encounters with alcohol ads. Overall, the study found that kids saw about three alcohol ads per day. Outdoor billboards and signs were the most common source, accounting for 38 percent of all ads, followed by television at 26 percent.
The study suggests that policymakers should pay more attention to outdoor alcohol advertising — which, Collins noted, is under the control of local communities.
Alcohol manufacturers are essentially self-regulated when it comes to advertising. Industry guidelines state that alcohol ads should be limited to media with a mostly adult audience. The guidelines also discourage placing ads near schools, playgrounds, and churches, Collins pointed out.
Still, the findings show that seeing alcohol ads are a daily occurrence for middle school students. This is particularly true for Hispanic and African-American children, who see an average of three and four ads per day, respectively. White children tend to see fewer alcohol ads — an average of two per day.
“It’s pretty disturbing that African-American kids saw twice as many ads,” said Collins.
Collins also pointed out another surprising finding: Girls saw 30 percent more ads than boys did — a difference that has not been documented in previous research.
This could mean a few things, notes Collins. Alcohol advertisers have been branching out to target other TV programs other than their traditional focus of sports, and this could be resulting in more girls seeing the ads. Or it may be that girls are watching more sports programs compared to years past. Or more girls may be seeing these ads in print, as girls tend to read more magazines than boys do.
The findings are published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.