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Alcohol adverts linked to drinking among young people

6 January 2006 - written by Michael Paterson for Bupa's health information team

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Watching alcohol adverts on television may make young people drink more alcohol, according to a recent study published in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

How was the study carried out?

Researchers at the University of Connecticut asked nearly 2000 young people aged between 15 and 26 about how much they drank. The answers were compared with the amount spent on advertising alcohol on television in their area. The interviews were carried out over a two-year period. Some people were interviewed up to four times.

What did the study show?

The study revealed that American youths who watched more alcohol adverts tended to drink more alcohol too. For each "extra" advert watched in a month, the interviewees consumed one percent more alcohol. Across all age groups, for every extra dollar per head spent on adverts in each television area, alcohol consumption rose by three percent.

What did the researchers conclude?

They concluded that alcohol advertising contributes to increased drinking among young people. The study also seemed to undermine previous claims that alcohol advertising has no effect on underage drinkers.

What were the strengths of the research?

It focused on advertising spending information rather than asking interviewees to estimate how many alcohol adverts they had seen.

What were the weaknesses?

The study did not look for any links between other forms of alcohol advertising and alcohol consumption in youths. Billboards and sports sponsorship, for example, did not form part of the survey. For comparison purposes, it should also be noted that the US legal age is 21. In the UK it is 18.

How is alcohol consumption measured?

A pint of ordinary lager counts as about two units. A pint of strong lager can be as much as three units. A standard glass of red or white wine is about two units. An alcopop is about 1.5 units.

What are the statistics for underage drinking in the UK?

  • By the age of 13, the majority of young people drink alcohol on a regular basis.
  • Binge drinking is common among young people in the UK. A government report found that 34 percent of men aged 16 to 24 had drunk more than eight units of alcohol on at least one day during the previous week. 26% of women from that age group admitted to drinking more than six units in one day during the previous week.
  • There is a sharp increase in drinking from the ages of 11 to 15. In 2004, 4 in 100 pupils aged 11 had drunk in the previous week compared to 45 in 100 15-year-olds.
  • A Europe-wide study of drinking among 15 to 16-year-olds showed that UK figures for alcohol consumption were some of the highest in Europe.
  • Studies suggest that young people who drink alcohol often engage in risky sexual behaviour.
  • Young people drink mainly beer, cider and lager. Alcopops are popular but consumption of them tends to drop with age.

Is underage drinking on the increase?

Yes. Among 11 to 15-year-olds who drink alcohol, the average weekly consumption rose from 5.3 units in 1990 to 10.7 units in 2004.

Do girls drink as much as boys?

Boys still drink more than girls.  out of 10 boys and half of girls aged 11 to 12 had tried at least one alcoholic drink. Within this group, 9 in 100 boys and 5 in 100 girls described themselves as regular drinkers. This figure rises to 39 in 100 boys and 33 in 100 girls among 15 to 16-year-olds.

What are safe limits for drinking alcohol?

Men should drink no more than three to four units of alcohol a day. Women should drink no more than two to three units a day. Pregnant women, or women who are trying to get pregnant, should drink no more than one or two units once or twice a week. There are no official statistics on safe levels of consumption for those aged under 18.

Are British teenagers and children protected from alcohol advertising on television?

New rules came into force on 30 September 2005. These rules ban adverts from having a strong appeal to under-18s. In particular, TV adverts cannot have a strong link between alcohol and youth culture. However, some academic studies have suggested that, while television partly shapes children's attitude to alcohol, films may have more influence. Also, social conditions and price are likely to have the strongest influence. In America, alcohol adverts are now only targeted at audiences where 7 in 10 consumers are of legal drinking age.

What problems does underage drinking create?

There is a link between alcohol and crime or anti-social behaviour. Of 100 school pupils who have committed a crime, 16 reported that they had been drinking at the time. A range of studies has shown a link between underage drinking and poor exam results, risky sex and the likelihood of being involved a car crash.

What about long term health problems?

Heavy drinkers are more likely to suffer from:

  • a stroke
  • cancer
  • cirrhosis of the liver
  • severe stomach disorders
  • fertility problems
  • impotence
  • brain disorders
  • mental health problems

Further information

These websites are recommended for parents by the Royal College of Psychiatrists:

References

  • Snyder L, Milici F, Slater M, Sun H, Strizhakova Y. Effects of Alcohol Advertising Exposure on Drinking Among Youth. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 2006;160:18-24.
  • Alcohol and health. Department of Health website.
    www.dh.gov.uk
  • Young People's Drinking. Alcohol Concern Factsheet.
    www.alcoholconcern.org.uk
  • Department of Health website.
    www.dh.gov.uk
  • Young People and Alcohol Advertising. Advertising Standards Association 2005.
    www.asa.org.uk
  • Health Impacts of Alcohol. Alcohol Concern factsheet.
    www.alcoholconcern.org.uk
  • Alcohol and drugs - what parents need to know. Royal College of Psychiatrists factsheet.
    www.rcpsych.ac.uk

All pages were accessed on 3 January 2006

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