The article is based on longitudinal surveys of 2,541 U.S. adolescents ages 15-23, conducted in 2011 and 2013 via telephone and Web.
The researchers showed study subjects images from beer and spirits ads aired in 2010-2011 that had been digitally edited to remove branding, then assigned them a score for ad “receptivity,” based on a number of factors, including whether they remembered seeing the ad and were able to correctly identify the alcohol brand in question. The researchers also asked underage subjects when they began drinking for the first time, and binge drinkers when they began binge drinking for the first time.
Underage subjects were only slightly less likely than other participants to have seen alcohol ads (23% for subjects ages 15-17, versus 26% for subjects ages 21-23). Further, their ad “receptivity” score was found to predict the onset of drinking — meaning subjects who could remember alcohol ads better were more likely to start drinking sooner. The same was true for the onset of binge drinking and hazardous drinking behavior.
Co-author James D. Sargent tells Time.com: “It’s very strong evidence that underage drinkers are not only exposed to the television advertising, but they also assimilate the messages. That process moves them forward in their drinking behavior.”
Last year, a study from the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that underage adults (ages 18-20) are heavily exposed to alcohol ads in magazines.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that underage drinking results in around 4,500 deaths per year from causes including traffic accidents, homicide, suicide, and alcohol poisoning, among others.