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Alcohol advertising's collateral damage

There is little doubt that underage drinking is dangerous and needs to be curbed, though that is easier said than done. New research findings from School of Community and Global Health (SCGH) Professors Jerry Grenard and Alan Stacy provide insight into how we may be able to stop underage drinking before it starts.

The key is advertising. These researchers—partnering with Clyde Dent of the Oregon Department of Human Services’ Office of Disease Prevention and Epidemiology—surveyed nearly 4,000 seventh graders (who are generally between 12–14 years old), then followed up with these same students in eighth, ninth, and 10th grades. The participants were assessed for the following: exposure to certain television programs during which alcohol ads appears; recognition and recall of the ads and products; how much they liked the alcohol ads shown on TV; frequency and amount of their own alcohol use; and problems associated with alcohol use, such as getting into fights or trouble with homework.

Grenard and Stacy also assessed the students for other factors that may influence teens’ use of alcohol, such as parents’ education, whether or not they play sports, and knowing peers or adults who drink.

Exposure to advertising was found to have a significant correlation to alcohol use, especially among girls. Liking the advertisements was connected with alcohol-related problems—such as passing out, going to school drunk, or getting into fights—particularly in boys. For both boys and girls, the more they were exposed to the ads and liked them, the more their alcohol use increased from seventh to 10th grade.

The results of this study, “Exposure to Alcohol Advertisements and Teenage Alcohol-Related Problems,” were published in the February 2012 issue of the journal Pediatics. In the article, Grenard and Stacy use evidence culled from their own and previous findings to conclude that exposure to alcohol ads on TV may influence alcohol use and lead to increased alcohol-related problems among adolescents. They recommend media education for adolescents, so that they will better understand and resist persuasive alcohol advertising. They also encourage the alcohol industry and policy-makers to work together to limit the exposure of these advertisements on youth.

“Underage drinking is a serious health concern,” said Grenard, an assistant professor in SCGH. “Students who start to drink early are much more likely to have alcohol abuse and dependence problems throughout their lifetimes. Underage drinking also contributes to one of the major causes of death in this age group, and that’s accidental death, car accidents in particular.”

Among high school students, during the past 30 days:
    39% drank some amount of alcohol
    22% binge drank
    8% drove after drinking alcohol
    24% rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol

Statistics provided by the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance—United States, 2011, produced by the CDC.

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