Magazine Ads Abet Teen Alcohol Drinking

As Teenage Readership Goes Up, Number of Alcohol Ads Goes Up

From the WebMD Archives

May 13, 2003 -- The more teen readers a magazine has, the more likely it is to carry beer and liquor ads, according to a new study. The finding suggests that the alcohol ads target teens.

And the alcohol ads aren't hidden. They appear very often in magazines immensely popular with teens. Some of the titles with the most alcohol ads and most teen readers:

  • Sports Illustrated. 5.8 million readers aged 12-19. From 1997 to 2001, 367 beer ads and 1,470 liquor ads.
  • Rolling Stone. 3.8 million readers aged 12-19. From 1997 to 2001, 187 beer ads and 903 liquor ads.
  • People. 5 million readers aged 12-19. From 1997 to 2001, 18 beer ads and 400 liquor ads.
  • TV Guide. 7.1 million readers aged 12-19. From 1997 to 2001, 142 beer ads and 11 liquor ads.

Teen alcohol drinking isn't a good thing. Yet one in five eighth graders say they've drunk alcohol in the last month, the study says. So do 35% of 10th graders and 49% of 12th graders. And these are just the kids who admit they drink.

Teens drink a fifth of all alcohol consumed in the U.S. In 1999, teens spent $22.5 billion on booze, the study says.

Alcohol advertising tends to correlate with alcohol use. Do these alcohol ads target teens? Northwestern University pediatrician Craig F. Garfield, MD, led the study of the issue. Garfield's team looked at magazine ads from 1997 through 2001. They used an advertising industry database to find out the number of teens who read 35 major U.S. magazines that accept alcohol ads. The database also has detailed information on the number and type of alcohol ads the magazines carry.

The bottom line: Beer and liquor ads appear more often in magazines with lots of teen readers.

"The frequency of [beer and liquor] advertising increase[d] exponentially as adolescent readership increased," Garfield and colleagues write in the May 14 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Are teens really targets of alcohol ads, or just collateral damage from ads aimed at adults? One clue comes from wine ads. Kids don't drink much wine. Young adults in the 20-24-year-old age group do. There was no link between wine ads and teen readership. On the other hand, there was a link between young-adult readership and wine ads, but not beer ads.

"We are unable to determine if the beer and distilled liquor industries intentionally target adolescents," Garfield and colleagues write. "At a minimum, our results suggest that both the beer and distilled liquor industries indirectly target adolescent readers."

SOURCE: The Journal of the American Medical Association, May 14, 2003.

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