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Wardrobe, Teen Drinking Linked?

Study Probes Tie Between Teen Drinking and Ownership of Alcohol-Branded Gear
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 20, 2006 -- Is teen drinking more common among teens who own clothes, hats, or other gear bearing the names of alcohol brands?

Maybe, report Auden McClure, MD, and colleagues in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. McClure works in the pediatrics department at Dartmouth Medical School in New Hampshire.

McClure's team isn't blaming alcohol-branded gear for teen drinking. But they want to see more research done on the topic. Meanwhile, a leading beer company notes the limits in McClure's study.

About the Study

The study included nearly 2,400 teens -- most of whom were white -- in rural New England. In middle school, the teens had taken surveys about smoking and drinking.

On those surveys, all of the teens denied ever drinking beer, wine, or other alcohol without their parents' knowledge. In follow-up interviews a year or two later, 15% admitted drinking beer, wine, or other alcohol without their parents' knowledge.

In the follow-up interviews, the researchers also asked whether the students owned any alcohol-branded merchandise, such as a T-shirt, hat, or backpack; 14% said yes. Teens who owned such gear were more likely to admit having drunk alcohol without their parents' knowledge.

Which Came First?

The researchers note that their study doesn't prove that owning alcohol-branded gear caused any teens to start drinking, and that they don't know whether the teens got those items before or after they started drinking without their parents' knowledge.

The surveys didn't cover alcohol use by the teens' parents or the teens' drinking habits. The findings need confirmation and might not apply to other groups of teens, the researchers state.

The study doesn't focus on any particular brand of alcohol. However, Anheuser-Busch Companies emailed WebMD a statement from John Kaestner, Anheuser-Busch's vice president for consumer affairs, about McClure's study.

Company's Response

"Anheuser-Busch is adamantly opposed to underage drinking," Kaestner states, underscoring the limits noted in the study.

"The most influential factor in teens' drinking decisions -- parents -- was not fully examined in the study, with parent alcohol use and the way in which the student acquired the alcohol-branded merchandise being unmeasured," states Kaestner.

"According to the Roper Youth Report, a nationally representative survey of youth (aged 13-17), teens say their parents are the No. 1 influence on their decisions to drink or refrain from drinking," Kaestner adds.

The study didn't represent teens nationwide, notes Kaestner.

Merchandise Intended for Of-Age Adults

"We direct our marketing to our customers, adults 21 and older," Kaestner continues.

"Our promotional clothing and merchandise are intended for adults, come in adult sizes, and are placed in adult sections of stores. The agreements we have with our licensees only permit their retailers to market, sell, and distribute our beer-branded merchandise to adults of legal drinking age."

Kaestner also mentions past research that has shown that many teens who drink say they get alcohol from their parents or other adults. "If teens can't get alcohol, they can't drink it," Kaestner states.

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