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Congressional Newsletter
Monthly updates to Congress on RAND's work in health policy

Alcohol Advertising Promotes Underage Drinking

Does exposure to alcohol advertising lead to drinking by underage teens? It has long been suspected that alcohol advertising is associated with underage drinking; however, a direct link has been difficult to pinpoint. To examine whether a direct link exists, RAND researchers surveyed more than 3,000 U.S. students as they moved from middle school to high school. Students were surveyed at the beginning of 7th grade, again at the end of 8th grade, and one more time after 9th grade. The study examined four venues of beer advertising: magazines, concession stands, convenience/grocery stores, and television. The results showed that nearly half of the 7th graders exposed to alcohol ads became drinkers by 9th grade, and that these effects persisted even after other contributing factors—such as peer influence and home environment—were taken into account. The study also found that different venues had different effects. For initial non-drinkers, in-store beer displays had the greatest impact. For teens who already were drinkers, ads in magazines and concession-stand displays at sports and music events had the greatest influence. The impact of TV commercials was not as strong, but they did contribute to teens’ awareness of alcohol products. The study produced some positive news: Students who participated in a high-school drug-prevention program were less likely to drink in 9th grade. In addition, students who had not started drinking prior to beginning the program were less susceptible to advertising. Given these results, researchers encouraged policymakers to revisit alcohol-advertising policy—specifically, to consider more carefully those ad venues to which adolescents are exposed and to re-examine the practice of airing frequent beer commercials during televised sports.

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Close-Knit Neighborhoods May Help Prevent Teens from Becoming Overweight

Adolescents who live in neighborhoods with close ties and where adults provide social support—such as watching out for youngsters and correcting their misbehavior—are less likely to be overweight than other adolescents. This finding emerged from a RAND study that examined the impact of neighborhood characteristics on health. The study analyzed responses from 3,000 households including 807 adolescents in 65 neighborhoods in the Los Angeles area. Researchers identified neighborhoods with the greatest social support as those with the following features: a close-knit community, adults whom children look up to, people willing to help their neighbors, neighbors who get along, adults who take active steps to ensure that children are safe, neighbors who share the same values, adults who will intervene if a youngster is defacing property with graffiti, and adults who will scold a child showing disrespect. In neighborhoods that lacked these features, adolescents were twice as likely to be overweight, even after considering other factors that influence adolescents’ weight. In addition to lower rates of overweight, children in close-knit neighborhoods also had a lower body mass index (a ratio of weight to height). These findings suggest that providing stronger social support for children in neighborhoods, which was more common in the past, could help reduce the incidence of obesity in young people in the future.

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Neighborhood Parks Promote Physical Activity Among Nearby Residents

A related study found that people in Los Angeles who use neighborhood parks for physical activity are most likely to go to parks that are close to home and have supervised activities. In the first systematic evaluation of public park use, a RAND team studied 12 neighborhood parks in mostly urban areas of Los Angeles to determine how effectively parks promote physical activity and how well they serve the surrounding community. Researchers tracked activities in public parks, park users, and the proportion of the local population using parks. The study found that location influenced park use: 81 percent of users lived within one mile of the park. In addition, people were more likely to use their neighborhood park even if a larger park was just a few miles away. Park areas that included supervised activities such as sporting events or senior-citizen centers attracted more users than other areas. The most common activity observed in parks was sitting, although most users walked to the park. Parks were typically underused in the mornings and most weekdays. Researchers suggested that officials consider ways to add park space throughout the city in order to bring more people closer to parks. In addition, researchers also encouraged officials to promote greater use of parks during mornings and weekdays by increasing programs for retirees and other non-working people. The parks in the RAND study include six that are scheduled to receive major upgrades under Proposition K, a program that will invest $25 million annually in Los Angeles City parks over a 30-year period. In follow-up studies, researchers plan to chart park use both before and after upgrades, comparing the results with parks that do not receive improvements.

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Alan Hoffman
Vice President for External Affairs

Shirley Ruhe
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Kristy Anderson
Health Legislative Analyst

RAND Washington External Affairs
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