TV ads may be driving children to drink
January 29th, 2013
10:18 AM ET

TV ads may be driving children to drink

The halls of every middle school in America are filled with teenagers looking to find themselves, express themselves and fit in with the crowd. But it’s what happens at home, at night, that can lead to some of the problems those teens may put on display.

Seventh-graders who are exposed to alcohol ads on television –- and who say they like the ads - may experience more severe problems related to drinking alcohol later in their adolescence, according to a study published Monday in the medical journal Pediatrics.

The study

Researchers at the School of Community and Global Health at Claremont Graduate University in California hypothesized that “adolescents who like alcohol advertisements will be more likely to elaborate on the content of the ads (e.g., imagine themselves in the scene), and as a result, they will be more likely to be persuaded to try the product.”

As consenting adult consumers, the more appealing an advertised product is, the more likely it will be purchased. Secondly –  drinking is oftentimes thought of as cool, rebellious – sometimes even an “adult” thing to do. These two notions, taken together, can be a recipe for problems when it comes to children and alcohol.

Participants were recruited from 23 randomly-selected public middle schools in Los Angeles County. The seventh-grade students were preliminarily surveyed as to how often they watched 20 popular TV shows. Data on alcohol advertising during these programs was subsequently obtained from Nielsen Media Research.

The study’s authors then conducted follow-up surveys, which included still pictures from the television advertisements, none of which contained any brand names or logos. An open-ended item asked participants to write down what product was being advertised; independent judges decided whether responses were indeed related to the advertisement or not.

The survey also included three items to assess how much participants liked the alcohol ads they viewed on TV. The teens were asked if they thought the alcohol ads were funny or sexy, and whether they liked the alcohol ads better than other ads. “These items,” explain the authors, “measure an affective or emotional reaction to alcohol ads that has been useful in both the study of alcohol advertising and by the advertising industry in general to estimate the potential effectiveness of advertising copy.”


“Exposure to advertising was found to have a significant correlation with alcohol use, particularly among girls,” the study concludes. “Liking the ads was connected with alcohol-related problems (defined as not being able to do homework, getting into fights, neglecting responsibilities, or causing someone shame or embarrassment), particularly in boys. For both boys and girls, the more they were exposed to the ads and liked them, the more their alcohol use grew from seventh to 10th grade.” That, of course, leads to a greater potential for alcohol-related problems later on.

The researchers were also careful to consider additional factors, such as the total amount of time spent watching television, observing friends drinking, observing well-known adults drinking, age, gender, ethnicity, language, parents’ occupation and education, as well as enrollment in extracurricular sporting activities.

Asked for a response by CNN, Anheuser-Busch referred questions to the Beer Institute.

"The brewing industry is deeply committed to responsible advertising practices, and actively works to reduce the underage drinking rate to zero," the institute said in a statement Wednesday. "In fact, we developed one of the first voluntary advertising guidelines to help our members advertise and market their products in a responsible manner, including targeting adults of legal drinking age ... At the end of the day, we support the timeless value of parents talking to their children about making good, safe decisions."


The study's authors recommend teaching children about "the design of persuasive messages in the media to help the avoid undue influence by the media on their behaviors. Second, it is important to have a comprehensive policy to limit the exposure of children to alcohol ads on television and on other media."

The urgency of finding a solution to the epidemic of underage drinking was underscored further by another study released Monday in Pediatrics. Researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that in 2010, 36% of 10th graders drank, 28% binged, and 23% were drunk in the past month. Although 82% of the high school sophomores reported seeing a doctor in the past year, only 54% were asked about drinking, and just 17% were advised to reduce or stop drinking.

“Efforts are warranted to increase the proportion of physicians who follow professional guidelines to screen and counsel adolescents about unhealthy alcohol use and behaviors that pose health risks,” conclude the second study’s authors.

soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. asgewat

    Same thing goes when it comes to sex. 7 out 10 teens are having sex putting themselves at risk for a decade or more of stds or unwanted pregnancy. The mainstream media pummels them with bad ideas about sex and them mocks the good ones.

    January 29, 2013 at 12:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jeff

      Turn on MTV at anytime of the day or night...anytime...and you can't watch 30 seconds of any show on MTV without the word "sex" or reference to sex being said...on any show.

      January 29, 2013 at 23:24 | Report abuse |
  2. Fernando Gamez

    I agree with that some t.v adds are bad but it shouldn't make them wanna drink.If kids or teens know they shouldn't drink alcohol why do they do it?There should be t.v adds for teenagers ages,not to make them drink alcohol.

    January 29, 2013 at 13:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • hyperminimalism

      I see a lot of pretty ignorant comments about this article, many of which seem to be missing the point. I think a lot of people are assuming that exposure to ads promoting the sales and consumption of alcohol is the MAIN reason why kids these days drink. However, this is quite obviously not the case as the article also states that there is a "significant correlation." Although that may mean there is a good amount of influence, I think–what I take from this–that this is only one of the reasons why many kids these days drink alcohol.

      There are understandably a number of different influence such as peer pressure and peer exposure, environmental influence (ie. being around adults and other children who drink), and other predispositions.

      January 29, 2013 at 22:38 | Report abuse |
    • Morgan

      they know that parents say they shouldn't, they don't really know whether they should or shouldn't

      February 13, 2013 at 17:06 | Report abuse |
  3. empresstrudy

    Commercials make kids fat. Ban them (the commercials I mean).

    January 29, 2013 at 13:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mike

      I I could read that either way and be equally on board.

      January 29, 2013 at 14:49 | Report abuse |
  4. JT

    This is a pretty far-fetched conclusion.

    I mean it's pretty dumb to sit there and quiz people based on ads they've seen and expect the people who've seen more of them to NOT do better at recognizing the products.

    On top of that they don't even offer a reason WHY they think exposure to ads led to this correlation...

    Also, hasn't underage drinking in HS been on a steady decline in recent years? All this despite the pervasive use of gimmicky commercials to sell generic beer.

    Maybe they can explain why car insurance agencies have such cool commercials and yet we have so many uninsured drivers.

    January 29, 2013 at 15:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Peter

    Yes, it's the adds. Not the content between them! Everyone knows that American society glorifies drinking, its something that penetrates far deeper than just advertisements. It's in every high school hallway in the form of "peer pressure".

    January 29, 2013 at 20:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Gary

    Are you kidding me or what?

    January 29, 2013 at 21:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Disgrunteled American

      New England journal of medicin says 1 ounce of alcohol and blood and mucus start forming around the eyes because of the damage to the brain,liver and nervous system! yea sounds like its healthy to me!I know docs who would tell you that red wine is good for the heart and they died of heart damage because they wanted to justify what they were doing!It does not matter what you believe its what is that will come back and bite you!

      January 29, 2013 at 23:44 | Report abuse |
  7. James

    Give me a break! First of all, most people drink, how do you know it was the commercials, second, kids don't think that way, seems like psychologists and doctors know everything about how to fix your child, but don't know how he actually thinks! And if he acts differently than what they think is average they will drug him up on ADHD meds. Alcohol in limited portions with meals is actually very good for you, it is just persecuted unfairly even though it has been part of western culture for the last several thousand years

    January 29, 2013 at 22:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Guest

      Of course advertising works. That's the reason companies spend so much money on it. It would be poor business to spend all that money on something that didn't work!

      January 29, 2013 at 22:55 | Report abuse |
    • Morgan

      I agree with you on everything other than rising concern with alcohol abuse. My teachers in school mentioned red wine being healthy for circulation, but also stated the dangers of alcohol abuse. The reason why we treat alcohol differently today is because we have a culture that glorifies drinking and very high rates of alcoholism

      February 13, 2013 at 17:12 | Report abuse |
  8. jojo

    Why are kids such F@G$ these days?

    January 29, 2013 at 22:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Hey

      Who knows, maybe if their parents stopped raising them all as care for and accept everyone weak @$$es they wouldn't be

      January 29, 2013 at 22:20 | Report abuse |
  9. TexDoc78132

    These studies all have the same design, and the same fundamental flaw. Your looking for changes in behavior remote to the stimuli. The correlation is not causation. Without randomized double blind studies, it's just conjecture.

    January 29, 2013 at 23:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Garrett

    Sorry CNN but I broke this story in speech class last semester!

    January 29, 2013 at 23:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Garrett

    PS, alcohol seems like the only serious drug that can be openly advertised on TV without a prescription or being barred entirely from advertising like tobacco products. Probably best to limit beer ads to later hours because as we all know, parents these days aren't going to do a dang thing.

    January 29, 2013 at 23:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Garrett

    And one last thing, I'm sure alcohol companies, similar to pharmaceutical corporations "contribute" funds via various channels and lobbyists to PAC's (bribe), to continue allowing ads on TV. Around 17% of alcohol sales are to minors in the US, sure they'd hate to lose that tasty chunk of cheese.

    January 29, 2013 at 23:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Fiona

    Kids learn about alcohol from the drinking habits of their parents. I had an alcoholic parent, so I learned what alcohol does to families. My parents let me have wine or beer at home before I was of age. There was never any reason to sneak off to drink with buddies because there was no thrill or glamour to it. If advertisements are influencing kids to drink, perhaps it indicates a lack of parental responsibility.

    January 29, 2013 at 23:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. mmi16

    Living causes dieing!

    January 30, 2013 at 01:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. causinascene

    so, the author of this study took a small sample of a lower class public school system where drugs and alcohol are a prevalent factor and came up with these "Statistics"... amazing!..and then added some further reaching information that is equally out of context with what is really going on in the nation as a whole. amazing!..Kids drink..wow what an in-depth study...let's go to a high school football game and ask people if they watch football on television....???
    Now let's look at it this way, Let's try to persuade the powers that be(government) to tell the alcohol industry that they have to inform people about the possible side effects of drinking and using what is considered a drug.. just like tobacco and prescription drugs, make warnings a requirement..E.G you may have the tendency to make stupid decisions you will regret later, you will have a tendency to make a total fool of yourself, you will be prone to wake up with a pounding headache and serious regrets....you know along those lines..I drink..I know the risks. from trial and error...

    January 30, 2013 at 02:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. el chorizo

    teens drink for the same reasons everyone else does.

    January 30, 2013 at 07:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Jrad

    Correlation is not causation.

    January 30, 2013 at 17:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. younglee

    Some tv ads don't make me want to drink they just make me despair!
    The latest post on my blog talks about how kids cartoons can have a positive effect on the viewer The more research regarding the effects of all media on children can only be a good thing.

    The latest post on my blog talks about how kids cartoons can be of benefit http://dadwithtwokids.wordpress.com/

    March 19, 2013 at 18:40 | Report abuse | Reply
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