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New Study Suggests Alcohol TV Ads are Linked with Underage Drinking

A new study suggests that exposure to an alcohol ad on TV can increase the likelihood young people will pick up a drink.

The study, conducted by researchers at Norris Cotton Cancer Center and Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock and published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, found that a higher receptivity to alcohol commercials among teenagers and young adults who weren’t of legal drinking age was linked to the onset of drinking, binge drinking and hazardous drinking in the future.

“Our study found that familiarity with and response to images of television alcohol marketing was associated with the subsequent onset of drinking across a range of outcomes of varying severity among adolescents and young adults, adding to studies suggesting that alcohol advertising is one cause of youth drinking,” the authors wrote. “Current self-regulatory standards for televised alcohol advertising appear to inadequately protect underage youth from exposure to televised alcohol advertising and its probable effect on behavior.”

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a trade association representing producers and marketers of distilled spirits sold in the U.S., questioned the methodology of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock study, noting that more than a third of the participants did not complete the follow-up survey and that the ad receptivity score is a subjective measure.

“The multiple flaws in the study are so extensive it undercuts the credibility of the conclusions,” said Frank Coleman, senior vice president of the Distilled Spirits Council.

The Distilled Spirits Council has a voluntary code of responsible practices for advertising and marketing alcoholic beverages. According to the code, beverage alcohol advertising and marketing should be placed in outlets where at least 71.6% of the audience is reasonably expected to be of legal purchase age.

A study released last month from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the University of Michigan found that underage drinking and binge drinking are at record lows in the U.S.

The Dartmouth-Hitchcock researchers surveyed 2,541 people between the ages of 15 and 23. Roughly 1,600 participants also completed a follow-up study. The surveys examined participants’ recall of more than 300 TV advertising images for top beer and distilled spirits brands that aired nationally from 2010 to 2011. These images were edited to remove branding from the ad. Receptivity to these ads was determined based on if the respondent had seen the ad and liked it as well as if the respondent correctly identified the brand.

The study found that participants under the legal drinking age were only slightly less likely to have seen alcohol ads than people of legal drinking age. According to the researchers, respondents between the ages of 15 and 20 reported they saw 23% of the alcohol ads compared, while people ages 21 to 23 saw 26% of them.

The researchers found that the more receptive underage participants were to the alcohol ads, the more likely they were to start drinking or to engage in binge drinking or hazardous drinking. According to the study, 29% of youths between the ages of 15 to 17 reported binge drinking– defined as having six or more drinks on one occasion– and 18% reported hazardous drinking– defined as meeting or exceeding a threshold score for frequency and quantity of alcohol use.

 

Nathalie Tadena, The Wall Street Journal. January 20, 2015

Copyright © 2015 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.. All rights reserved.

 

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