Multiple Types of Alcohol Advertising May Influence Adolescent Drinking

For Release

February 4, 2005

Certain types of alcohol advertising may lead adolescents to begin drinking or increase their use of alcohol, according to a RAND Corporation study issued today.

Researchers from RAND Health found that adolescents who more frequently viewed prominent beer advertising displays in grocery and convenience stores were more likely to begin drinking alcohol than peers who viewed fewer of these displays.

In addition, adolescents who had already tried alcohol increased their drinking by a greater amount the more alcohol ads they viewed in magazines and the more they saw beer concession stands at music and sporting events, according to the study.

Titled “Does alcohol advertising promote adolescent drinking? Results from a longitudinal assessment,” the study appears in the February 5 edition of the journal Addiction.

“It appears that it’s a combination of message and venue that helps influence adolescent drinking,” said Phyllis Ellickson, the study’s lead author. “Advertising that links alcohol with everyday life—such as supermarket store displays—appears to have more influence on drinking initiation.”

The study is among the first to examine the influence of alcohol advertising among adolescents over time, and examines more types of advertising than previous studies. It also accounts for differences among adolescents, such as exposure to peers and adults who drink, that might account for the effect of alcohol advertising on drinking.

The RAND study, supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, found no evidence that television beer ads encouraged adolescents to begin drinking or increase their use of alcohol. But researchers cautioned that more study of TV advertising is needed.

“We don’t feel this is enough information to say that TV advertising does not have an effect on kids,” said Rebecca Collins, a RAND psychologist and co-author of the study. “It may be that TV beer advertising has a cumulative effect over a longer period of time or may have an influence on younger children. These are two issues we didn’t examine.”

Researchers also found that adolescents who took part in an evidence-based drug and alcohol prevention program called Project ALERT were less likely to drink and to be influenced by alcohol advertising than their peers who did not receive the instruction. One component of the education program uses alcohol advertisements to teach adolescents about the pressures to use alcohol and how to resist such pressures.

The RAND study followed 3,111 South Dakota adolescents from seventh grade to ninth grade, collecting information about their alcohol use, television viewing and exposure to several types of alcohol advertising.

“We looked at advertisements young people are likely to see across a variety of settings,” Ellickson said.

About half of the youths in the study were enrolled in an updated version of Project ALERT, a school-based program that provides lessons to 7th and 8th graders about alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana. It targets these three substances because they are the ones that middle-school youth are likely to try first.

Researchers found that the Project ALERT program curbed overall drinking and also countered the impact of store advertising among adolescents who had not begun drinking before the program was implemented. But the program did not alter the impact of advertising on adolescents who already used alcohol.

“The Project ALERT effect shows that education programs that try to counteract the impact of advertising are on the right track,” Ellickson said. “This is the first time we have seen that an evidence-based education program can counteract at least some types of alcohol advertising.”

Project ALERT is an acronym for Adolescent Learning Experiences in Resistance Training. Widely known as one of the most effective prevention programs in the country, ALERT was developed in the 1980s by RAND with the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and tested in a large-scale experiment involving 30 school districts in California and Oregon.

RAND researchers have been studying the general effectiveness of an updated version of the Project ALERT program among students from more than 50 middle schools in South Dakota for several years. The state ranks among the top 10 states in rates of alcohol and drug dependence and binge drinking among adolescents and young adults.

Other authors of the study are Katrin Hambarsoomians and Daniel F. McCaffrey of RAND Health.

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