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Am Fam Physician. 2005;71(9):1792

Underage drinking has a serious negative impact, including lower educational attainment, increased risk for attempting suicide, greater likelihood of engaging in risky sexual behaviors, and higher risk for mortality from drunk driving compared with persons 21 years and older. Young people who engage in alcohol use also are more likely to become alcohol dependent and to develop alcohol-related injury. In addition, heavy exposure to alcohol during adolescence may cause loss of memory and other skills. In 2002, for the first time, girls in eighth and 10th grades surpassed boys in the 30-day prevalence of alcohol use.

European studies have shown that this increase may be related to the introduction of “low-alcohol” refreshers (i.e., alcoholic lemonades, iced teas, and fruity or sweet-flavored alcoholic beverages), which actually contain more alcohol than most beers. Alcohol companies spend a significant amount of their advertising budget on magazine advertisements. Studies have shown that adolescents have a significant exposure to these advertisements, but no studies have assessed for potential gender differences in these advertisements. Jernigan and associates measured girls’ and boys’ exposure to alcohol advertising in magazines and compared this with the exposure of persons who were at least 21 years of age.

The data analyzed included information about when and where the advertisements were published and the magazine readership. The readership data were extracted from standard media-planning statistical sources to quantify levels of exposure of different audiences to alcohol beverage brand advertisements. The evaluation included 103 national magazines published in 2001 and 2002 with alcohol advertising. Advertising placement, audience, and cost data were categorized by year, beverage type, and brand. Age and sex data were used to generate estimates of media exposure in persons 12 to 20 years of age, 21 to 34 years of age, and 21 years and older. Main outcome measurements included gross rating points for a given population and gross rating point ratios comparing exposure of different groups.

The alcohol companies spent $590.4 million on magazine advertisements over the two-year study. Of that amount, 8 percent was spent on beer and ale advertisement, 76 percent on distilled spirits, 2 percent on low-alcohol refreshers, and 14 percent on wine. Underage youth saw 45 percent more advertisements for beer and ale, 12 percent more for distilled spirits, 65 percent more for low-alcohol refereshers, and 69 percent less for wine than persons in the 21-years-and-older group. The girls in the 12- to 20-year-old group were more likely to be exposed to beer, ale, and low-alcohol refresher advertisements than women in the 21- to 34-year-old group or the 21-years-and-older group. Between 2001 and 2002, girls’ exposure to low-alcohol refresher advertisements increased by 216 percent, while boys’ exposure increased by 46 percent.

The authors conclude that exposure of underage girls to alcohol advertisements increased substantially during the study. They suggest that the alcohol industry has failed to self-regulate their advertising patterns, and that there is a need for further action.

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Copyright © 2005 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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