The American Academy of Pediatrics held its annual Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in Boston, MA this weekend. Yesterday, I reported on one important presentation at that meeting that linked bullying and depression among special needs students. Today, another one of the presentations made at that meeting is equally important for all parents and educators to consider. This study links the viewing of alcohol-related television advertisement with underage drinking, specifically binge drinking, which is a mounting problem among youth. [caption id="attachment_1419" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Image courtesy of George Stojkovic"][/caption] Breaking it Down: How TV Impacts Drinking The study, titled “TV Alcohol Advertising May Play Role in Underage Drinking,” was conducted by Suzanne E. Tanski, MD, MPH, FAAP. Dr. Tanski is an assistant professor in the pediatrics department of the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth. The research she presented this past Sunday was an extension of an earlier study in which Dr. Tanski and her team showed a positive relationship between viewing smoking and drinking in the movies and teenagers who engage in these behaviors. This new study looked at a total of 2,451 youths aged 15 to 20. In a survey format, Transki asked about drinking behavior of the youths, their friends, and parents. In addition to demographic info, the survey also asked about each participant’s experience with alcohol-related advertising, such as whether or not they had a favorite alcohol-related ad or if they owned any alcohol-themed merchandise. Next, the team took still shots of from twenty different advertisements which were digitally altered to remove any logos. Some of the ads were from alcohol and others from fast food restaurants (the control). Each participant was asked to identify if they had seen the ad, state whether or not they liked it, and then say the product or restaurant being advertised if they knew. The results were that those teens and young adults familiar with the alcohol-related ads were significantly more likely to engage in drinking and especially binge drinking. All told, 59% of those surveyed had drunk alcohol before and 49% had engaged in binge drinking behavior. Implications and Further Study Though several other factors contributed to whether or not any given member of this study identified as drinking alcohol, such as friends who drank, having a greater propensity for sensation-seeking, and having parents who drank at least weekly, the presence of television advertisement was among the strongest factors. Additionally, those who were binge drinkers were more affected by alcohol advertising, especially in the form of owning alcohol-related merchandise. In terms of future implications, Dr. Tanski said in an AAP press release, “At present, the alcohol industry employs voluntary standards to direct their advertising to audiences comprised of adults of legal drinking age. Our findings of high levels of familiarity with alcohol ads demonstrate that underage youth still frequently see these ads. While this study cannot determine which came first — the exposure to advertising or the drinking behavior — it does suggest that alcohol advertising may play a role in underage drinking, and the standards for alcohol ad placement perhaps should be more strict.” As educators, being aware of the impact that viewing alcohol-related advertising can have on our students and children is important. We need to make sure that we are looking for warning signs of alcohol consumption among youth and intervening when necessary. Studies such as this one, which identify the particular risk factors associated with underage drinking and binge drinking, are important because they give parents and teachers more tools to help prevent the tragedy caused by underage drinking.
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