January 3, 2006

Alcohol Ads May Contribute to Underage Drinking

NEW YORK -- Exposure to alcohol advertising is an important factor in alcohol consumption among young people, according to a study funded by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Approximately 20 percent of all alcoholic drinks are consumed by individuals below age 21, Dr. Leslie B. Snyder, from the University of Connecticut in Storrs, and colleagues note in their report. When they do drink alcohol, underage drinkers tend to imbibe more heavily than adults and are involved in twice as many fatal car crashes while driving.

But up until now, there have been no long-term studies of the impact of alcohol advertising on youth.

To fill this research gap, Snyder and her associates interviewed 1872 subjects ages 15 to 26 years from 24 media markets up to four times between April 1999 and January 2001.

At the first interview, drinkers consumed an average of 38.5 drinks in the past month. Those younger than 21 years had 29 drinks on average.

Results showed that for each extra advertisement that individuals saw, they had 1 percent more alcoholic drinks per month. The results were similar for underage drinkers.

"Market advertising expenditures per capita were related to drinking levels and to growth in drinking over time," Snyder's group reports in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine for January.

For each additional dollar per capita spent on advertising, individuals consumed 3 percent more alcoholic beverages per month. Young people were more likely to drink more over time in areas with more alcohol advertising.

"All these findings point to alcohol advertising as an important arena for interventions seeking to reduce underage drinking and its tragic consequences," Dr. David H. Jernigan, from Georgetown University in Washington DC, comments in a related editorial.

He suggests that if alcohol companies were to reduce the number of ads young people see, "they would make a substantial contribution to reducing underage drinking."

SOURCE: Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine January 2006.