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Underage Drinkers’ Brand Preferences Vary by Race, Age

SPH study finds sharp demographic differences

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The most striking finding of a recent study of underage drinkers’ alcohol preferences, says study leader Michael Siegel, was the difference in brands preferred by different races.

One possible hypothesis for this, suggested by previous research, says Siegel, a School of Public Health professor of community health sciences, is that urban music like rap, hip-hop, and R&B contains disproportionately more alcohol brand references, and that is the music young blacks listen to most. For each of the 12 top brands cited only by black youths, there are either lyrics to popular songs that refer to those brands or direct promotion of the brands through rap artists or concert sponsorships.

The study, headed by SPH researchers and published in the Journal of Substance Use, is the first to examine demographic differences in alcohol brand preferences among underage youth. It was based on a survey of 1,031 youths, ages 13 to 20, who had had at least one drink of alcohol in the prior month.

Two beer brands—Bud Light and Budweiser—are uniformly popular among underage drinkers regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity, while certain other brands appear to have a unique appeal to African American youth drinkers, the study found.

Across all demographic groups, Bud Light was overwhelmingly the most popular brand, with prevalence of consumption during the past 30 days ranging from 19.3 percent among black respondents to 38.2 percent among Hispanic youths. Bud Light also was the most popular brand among female drinkers, who reported a consumption rate of 27.7 percent.

Similarly, Budweiser was popular across all groups, with a prevalence of 14.5 percent among non-Hispanic white and 17.3 percent among black youths. Smirnoff Malt Beverages also ranked high among all racial and ethnic groups.

The study found that 12 of the top 25 alcohol brands preferred by black youth drinkers did not appear at all on the list of the top 25 preferred by non-Hispanic white youth—among them, Hennessy cognac, Ciroc vodka, and 1800 tequila. Also, there were 3 popular brands among Hispanic youths that were not among the top 25 for non-Hispanic white drinkers: Dos Equis, Tecate, and Modelo Especial.

The study is the latest in ongoing research into youth drinking by SPH and the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“We need to look at the reasons for the observed racial and ethnic differences in brand popularity,” says Siegel, who has worked on a number of studies probing youth drinking trends.

Broken down by age, young drinkers favored liquor brands as they got older. For 13- to 15-year-olds, only 7 of the top 25 brands were liquor, but among 19- to 20-year-olds, 13 of the top 25 were liquor. For example, consumption of Jack Daniel’s bourbon increased from 5.8 percent among the youngest group to 16.8 percent among the oldest group.

The study found that the popularity of flavored alcohol beverage brands declined generally with age, but there were some exceptions, including Smirnoff vodka and Bacardi rum. Certain flavored drinks—especially Smirnoff, Mike’s, and Bartles & Jaymes—were about twice as popular among female underage drinkers as among males. In general, liquor was more popular among men than among women.

Siegel says the next step in the ongoing research into youth drinking is to examine the associations between demographic brand preferences and targeted brand marketing toward different youth subgroups. If brand preferences are fueled by differential advertising exposure, he says, then “public health interventions and policies can be directed towards reducing underage youths’ exposure to these brand promotions.”

Coauthors on the study are William DeJong, an SPH professor of community health sciences, Timothy Naimi, a School of Medicine associate professor of general internal medicine and an SPH associate professor of community health sciences, Amanda J. Ayers, a former SPH research assistant, and David H. Jernigan of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The study was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health.

Lisa Chedekel can be reached at chedekel@bu.edu.

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