TV Influences Alcohol Brand Choices Among Youths, New Study Finds

Posted on: August 4, 2014 Topics: Community Health Sciences

Underage drinkers are three times more likely to drink alcohol brands that advertise on television programs they watch, compared to other alcohol brands, providing new evidence of a strong association between alcohol advertising and youth drinking behavior.

That’s the conclusion of a new study by researchers at the BU School of Public Health and the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which examined whether exposure to brand-specific alcohol advertising on 20 television shows popular with youth was associated with brand-specific consumption among underage drinkers.

Published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, the report comes on the heels of a similar study by the same researchers, published earlier this summer, which found that underage drinkers are heavily exposed to magazine ads for the alcohol brands they consume.

“Taken together, these studies strengthen the case for a relationship between brand-specific alcohol advertising among underage youth and brand-specific consumption,” said lead author Craig Ross, president of Virtual Media Resources in Natick, Mass., and a recent doctoral graduate at BUSPH. “As alcohol continues to devastate so many young lives, youth exposure to alcohol advertising should be reduced.”

Alcohol is the number one drug among youths and is responsible for 4,300 deaths per year. Yet alcohol advertising in the U.S. is primarily regulated by the industry itself, through a voluntary code, which serves as the main vehicle for reducing youth exposure to advertising.

In the current study, researchers surveyed over 1,000 youths, ages 13-20, recruited from a national Internet panel maintained by Knowledge Networks. All reported consuming at least one drink of alcohol in the past 30 days. The researchers determined all alcohol brands the participants had consumed within the past 30 days, as well as their exposure to alcohol brand advertising on 20 television shows they had watched within the past month.

The researchers found that the relationship between consumption of a brand and advertising exposure for that brand was significant, and that the relationship was strongest at lower levels of exposure. Their results held even after controlling for other factors influencing youth drinking, such as their parents’ drinking, whether the youths chose the brands themselves, the brands’ average pricing, and the popularity of the brands among adults.

Dr. Michael Siegel, professor of community health sciences at BUSPH, said now that a link has been shown with TV advertising, “The question becomes, what do alcohol advertisers do with this information, given the consequences of alcohol consumption in underage youth?”

At least 14 long-term studies have found that the more young people are exposed to alcohol advertising and marketing, the more likely they are to drink — or if they are already drinking, to drink more.

In addition to Ross and Siegel, the study’s co-authors include William DeJong, professor of community health sciences, and Timothy Naimi, assistant professor of community health sciences.