Minors who are familiar with TV alcohol ads are more likely to have tried alcoholic beverages and binge drink than those who do not recall seeing such ads, according to a study presented earlier this week at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Boston.
The study shows a link between recognition of nationally televised alcohol ads and underage drinking initiation and heavier use patterns, said lead author Susanne E. Tanski, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Children's Hospital at Dartmouth, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.
Previous research by Tanski and her colleagues showed an association between seeing smoking and drinking in movies and adolescents engaging in these risky behaviors. This study expanded on those findings by exploring whether there is an association between exposure to TV alcohol ads and substance use.
The researchers surveyed a national sample of 2,541 youths ages 15 to 20 years. Participants were asked about their age, gender, race, if their friends drank, if their parents drank, whether they had a favorite alcohol ad and whether they owned alcohol-branded merchandise. They also were asked questions to assess whether they engaged in "sensation-seeking" behavior.
Participants were shown 20 still images selected from TV ads for the top beer and spirit alcohol brands that aired on national TV in the year before the survey as well as 20 ads for fast-food restaurants. The images were digitally edited to remove the brands and logos. Individuals were asked if they remembered seeing the ad, if they liked the ad and if they knew the product or restaurant being advertised.
Familiarity with TV alcohol advertising was significantly higher for drinkers than for non-drinkers. Other factors linked with drinking alcohol included older age, seeing alcohol in movies, having a favorite alcohol ad, having greater propensity for sensation seeking, having friends who drink alcohol, and having parents who drink alcohol at least weekly.
Among those who drank alcohol, familiarity with TV alcohol advertising was linked with greater alcohol use and binge drinking. Other factors linked with more hazardous drinking included owning alcohol-branded merchandise, having a favorite alcohol ad, older age, male gender, sensation seeking and friend drinking.
Familiarity with fast-food TV ads was not linked to drinking behavior, suggesting that the relationship between alcohol ad familiarity and drinking is specific and not due to overall familiarity with advertising, Tanski said.
Results showed that 59% of underage youths previously drank alcohol. Of those who drank, 49% binge drank (had more than six drinks in a row) at least once in the past year.
"At present, the alcohol industry employs voluntary standards to direct their advertising to audiences comprised of adults of legal drinking age," Tanski said in a release. "Our findings of high levels of familiarity with alcohol ads demonstrate that underage youth still frequently see these ads. While this study cannot determine which came first -- the exposure to advertising or the drinking behavior -- it does suggest that alcohol advertising may play a role in underage drinking, and the standards for alcohol ad placement perhaps should be more strict."