TV Alcohol Ads Increase Risk of Binge Drinking in Teens, Study Finds

By Cheri Cheng - 22 Jan '15 16:47PM

Television advertisements do not only affect their target groups. According to a new study, teenagers who are more receptive to alcohol advertisements have a greater risk of binge drinking than those who do not.

"The alcohol industry claims that their advertising self-regulation program protects underage youths from seeing their ads. Our study indicates that it does not," lead study author Susanne E. Tanski, pediatrician at the Chilldren's Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock and associate professor of pediatrics at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth University, said in a news release.

For this study, the researchers surveyed more than 3,000 participants between the ages of 15 and 23 in 2010 and 2011 via the phone. After the survey was completed, the participants were required to complete an image related assignment online. The researchers conducted follow-up surveys two years later. A total of 1,596 people participated.

The team found that 23 percent of the youngest participants that saw alcohol ads reported liking them and were able to identify the brands in the ads. The rate for the oldest participants was slightly higher at 26 percent. The researchers noted that liking and remembering the ads were signs of higher receptivity, which was linked to a greater risk of binge drinking.

"If you compare low- to high-receptivity kids, their risk of transitioning to binge drinking was over four times higher," said Dr. James Sargent, the study's senior author from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College in Lebanon, New Hampshire reported by Reuters. "This study suggests that alcohol marketing does affect subsequent drinking behaviors."

In 2013, roughly two-thirds of all American high school students stated that they have drank alcohol before. About a third of these students drank alcohol within the past month and about one in five of them reported binge drinking recently. Binge drinking is defined as having five or more drinks on one occasion.

"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 in their paper. "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 researchers added that they conducted a similar experiment examining the link between fast food TV ads and drinking behaviors. They did not find a connection.

The study was published in the journal, JAMA Pediatrics.

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