Children's exposure to alcohol advertising during early adolescence appears to influence both beer drinking and their intentions to drink a year later, according to a RAND Corporation study issued today.
The study of children in the sixth and seventh grades found that those exposed to alcohol advertising at high levels – from television, magazines, in-store displays and promotional items like T-shirts and posters – were 50 percent more likely to drink and 36 percent more likely to intend to drink than children whose exposure to alcohol advertising was very low.
Previous studies have found that adolescents on average see at least 245 television ads for alcoholic beverages every year, and that these ads may promote drinking. But the RAND study is unique because it also asked adolescents about advertising in magazines, radio and elsewhere, along with whether they owned any promotional items from alcoholic beverage companies.
"Parents may be aware that advertising may promote drinking among early adolescents," said Rebecca L. Collins, a RAND senior behavioral scientist and lead author of the study. "We did a previous study that found that children as young as fourth grade were very familiar with alcohol advertising and can tell you slogans and brand names. This new study shows that by the time they get to sixth grade, ads may be influencing them to drink."
"Parents often think they don't have to worry about their kids drinking before they get to high school, but sixth grade -- or even before then-- is the time to talk with children about alcohol marketing techniques, as well as drinking," Collins added. "Getting kids to think critically about ads may lessen any effects the ads have."
The study by RAND, a nonprofit research organization, is titled "Early Adolescent Exposure to Alcohol Advertising and its Relationship to Underage Drinking" and is available from the Journal of Adolescent Health Web site at www.JAHOnline.org. It will be published in the June issue of the journal.
The study is based on a RAND survey of 1,786 South Dakota sixth graders about their exposure to alcohol advertising and marketing, and a second survey of the same children a year later about drinking intentions and behavior.
More research is needed, Collins said. South Dakota ranks among the top ten states in terms of binge drinking among adolescents, and results might be different where drinking is not as common, she said.
Besides being illegal, underage drinking has been linked to an increased probability of motor vehicle crashes, sexually transmitted diseases, suicide and disability. The U.S. surgeon general issued a call to action in March to prevent and reduce underage drinking.
The sixth-graders in the RAND study were the youngest group to be studied longitudinally on alcohol advertising issues. By the time children are in the eighth grade, slightly more than 50 percent have already experimented with alcohol. Those who have not experimented have seen the effects of alcohol on their friends.
By seventh grade, 17 percent of the children surveyed reported that they had consumed beer in the past year; 16 percent said they "definitely" or "probably" would drink in the next six months; 23 percent said they "probably would not;" and 61 percent they "definitely would not."
Like other studies, the RAND research found that television ads, which mostly appear during sports programming, are a key factor. But the RAND study also found that the 19 percent of children who owned a hat, poster or T-shirt promoting alcohol were nearly twice as likely to drink or intend to drink as other youngsters.
"We were a little surprised by how common these promotional items were," Collins said. "Parents can make a difference by keeping promotional merchandise from their kids. My guess is that many parents think it's harmless: your kid has a Budweiser T-shirt, it's just funny. But it probably is a subtle communication to kids that beer drinking is cool."
Researchers also found that a child would be more likely to drink if the child's friends approved of drinking and if the child's parents didn't monitor him or her.
Other authors of the study include: Phyllis L. Ellickson, Daniel McCaffrey and Katrin Hambarsoomians, all of RAND. The RAND Health study was funded by a grant from the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.