Young Drinkers Make Different Brand Choices than Adults, Study Finds

Posted on: March 21, 2014 Topics: Community Health Sciences

Youth drinkers do not mimic the alcohol brand choices of adults, suggesting that other factors may be influencing their drinking preferences, according to a new study led by a BU School of Public Health researcher.

The report, published online by Substance Abuse, is the first study to compare the brand-specific consumption of alcohol between underage youth and adults. The researchers identified several brands that appear to be disproportionally consumed by youth, including: Keystone Light beer, Bacardi malt beverages, Malibu rum, Captain Morgan rum and Smirnoff malt beverages.

Michael Siegel

Michael Siegel

“Underage drinkers are not just adopting the brand choices modeled by their parents or other adults,” said lead author Dr. Michael Siegel, professor of community health sciences at BUSPH. “Other factors are influencing which brands of alcohol young people are consuming.”

BUSPH teamed with the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health for the study. Previous research by the team documented the top alcohol brands consumed by underage youth. By examining the brand-specific drinking patterns of adults, the researchers were able to assess whether youth are simply copying what they see adults drink.

Each year, approximately 4,300 people under 21 die as a result of alcohol use. More than 70 percent of high school students report having consumed alcohol, and about 22 percent report having engaged in heavy episodic drinking.

Three data sources were used to estimate youth, adult, and overall consumption of alcohol by brand: a 2012 internet-based survey of underage drinkers ages 13-20; GFK MRI’s Survey of the Adult Consumer for the years 2010-12, which provides brand-specific consumption data for adults; and national data compiled by Impact Databank to estimate overall market shares for each brand. Researchers calculated prevalence ratios for each brand, defined as the ratio of the percent of youth who reported drinking the brand, compared to what market research reports for adults.

Results showed that 15 leading brands among youth had disproportionate underage youth consumption as measured by prevalence, market share, and ratios of prevalence and market share: Smirnoff Malt Beverages, Jack Daniels Whiskeys, Mike’s Malt Beverages, Absolut Vodkas, Heineken, Bacardi Malt Beverages, Grey Goose Vodkas, Malibu Rums, Keystone Light, Patron Tequilas, Corona Extra Light, Jack Daniel’s Cocktails, Burnett’s Vodkas, Bud Ice and Natural Ice beer.

The top brand for youth in terms of prevalence and market share, compared with adults, was Smirnoff Malt Beverages.

Seventeen percent of youth drinkers (ages 13-20) reported drinking Smirnoff Malt Beverages in the past month — the highest of any brand.
 These beverages accounted for close to three (2.9) percent of youth alcohol consumption in the youth survey.
They also took up a share of youth consumption that was nearly 7 times (6.7) their share of adult consumption.

The researchers cautioned that their findings are not sufficient to identify the reasons for differences in youth and adult alcohol brand preferences.

“Future research is urgently needed to understand to what extent other factors — such as price, taste and marketing — play a role in young people’s choices of these particular brands,” said study co-author David Jernigan, CAMY director. “Follow-up studies will allow us to measure the degree of association between exposure to alcohol advertising and marketing efforts and brand preferences in young people.”


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