Teens’ awareness of alcohol ads linked to ‘higher risk’ drinking

UK teens that have a greater awareness of alcohol marketing are at greater risk of becoming ‘higher risk’ drinkers, a study published in the online journal BMJ Open has concluded.

The study, published in the journal BMJ Open, gathered data on almost 3,400 people aged 11 to 19 from England and Scotland.

Three-quarters (76%) were under 18, and so not legally allowed to buy alcohol, but around half (48%) were current drinkers, of which 44% were considered to be “high-risk” drinkers.

Young people with a high awareness of alcohol marketing, who could recall seeing more than 54 examples in the last month, were likely to drink more, the study found.

The most common sources of marketing awareness were TV adverts, celebrity endorsements, and special offers, with more than a third of respondents saying that they had noticed marketing through these channels at least weekly.

Almost one in five (17%) of young people aged 11 to 19 own branded alcohol merchandise.

The researchers said the findings support measures to reduce young people’s exposure to the marketing of alcohol products on TV, social media and through sponsorship.

“Alcohol marketing is more than advertising, it exists in many different forms – more commonly known as the marketing mix – and we found this was reflected in what young people recalled,” said lead author Dr Nathan Critchlow, from the University of Stirling.

“Although alcohol consumption can be influenced by a variety of factors, we found that the association between alcohol marketing and increased consumption and higher-risk drinking in current drinkers, remained even after controlling for a range of demographic and confounders, such as parental and peer drinking.

“This was also true for the association between owning branded merchandise and susceptibility in never-drinkers.”

The authors noted that the research only shows a link between awareness of alcohol marketing and drinking habits, and does not prove cause and effect.

The study concludes: “The results highlight that ‘360-degree’ marketing strategies have created several avenues for young people to be exposed to, or involved with, alcohol marketing, and that is associated with consumption and higher-risk drinking in current drinkers and susceptibility in never drinkers.”

“Further scrutiny and examination of the UK’s self-regulatory approach and viable alternatives are needed to identify feasible, appropriate and effective means of reducing marketing exposure in young people.”

The research used data from YouGov’s 2017 youth alcohol policy survey and was funded by Cancer Research UK.

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