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For Release: July 4, 2011 (4 p.m.)
David Corriveau 603-653-1978

Dartmouth-led study: Branding steers youth alcohol choices

Susanne Tanski, MD, MPH

James Sargent, MD

Lebanon, NH—American adolescents are hitting the hard stuff - and they're naming alcohol brand names, according to a new report from Dartmouth Medical School (DMS) and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

After examining the responses of nearly 2,700 underage teens to questions about their drinking habits, Dartmouth pediatricians Susanne Tanski, MD, MPH, Auden McClure, MD, MPH, and James Sargent, MD, found that more adolescent drinkers favored particular brands of alcohol, and that they tended to choose highly-advertised brands. Moreover, those with a favorite brand - Smirnoff products led the way among girls, Budweiser among boys - tended to have binged in the previous month - further evidence linking alcohol marketing and risky behavior by youths.

The Dartmouth trio collaborated with the Bloomberg School's Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) on the report, which appears in the July issue of the journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, a publication of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The findings are part of a larger program of DMS research into the influence of mass media - including movies and television as well as advertising - on risky behavior of young people, with funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

"The ultimate aim for marketers is to have a product user choose their brand as 'favorite,'" says Tanski, a professor of pediatrics at DMS and the lead author of the study. "Many underage drinking adolescents have a favorite brand of alcohol to drink, and they preferentially choose highly advertised brands as 'favorites.' This suggests that marketing is influencing their choice of alcoholic beverages."

For the Archives report, Tanski, McClure, Sargent, and CAMY director David Jernigan, PhD , tracked the responses of 2,699 drinkers ages 16 to 20 to questions in a telephone survey. Nearly two-thirds of the underage youth had drunk alcohol, and of these, 68 percent endorsed 158 different brands as favorites. Smirnoff and Budweiser ranked 1-2 among female respondents, while males gave Budweiser the edge over Smirnoff.

The researchers also note that among the underage drinkers, 26 percent of males and 16 percent of females reported consuming five or more drinks in a row at least once over the previous 30 days - the definition of binge drinking. And rates of binging rose much higher among adolescents who chose a favorite brand to drink: Depending on the brand, between 28 percent and 73 percent of brand loyalists reported binge drinking, versus 11 percent among those with no favorite.

While the report shows binge-drinking rates for a number of popular brands, beer brands proved no less likely to correlate with binging than distilled spirits.

"The association between favorite brand to drink and binge drinking is particularly disturbing," Tanski says. "It suggests that the 'drink responsibly' message is being swamped by other advertising messages that associate alcohol brands with partying and drinking to excess. For example, one recent ad showed how many shots of rum are in a half-gallon of Captain Morgan. Perhaps, then, it is not surprising that among boys who reported Captain Morgan as the favorite brand, 62 percent also reported binge drinking."

In addition, the amount of money a company spent on television advertising to promote its brand was directly associated with choice of brand and increased risk for problematic alcohol use. The CAMY at the Bloomberg School has been charting these trends for more than a decade.

"The huge increase in spirits advertising on television since 2001 is having an effect on the alcohol brands that kids - especially girls - prefer," Jernigan says. "The current standards governing where and when this industry advertises its products are clearly not protecting young people from its influence."

Adds Sargent: "Marketing self-regulation by the alcohol industry is intended to limit ad messages to legal drinkers. The fact that two-thirds of adolescent drinkers have a favorite alcohol brand and that they tend to choose the highly advertised ones is evidence of a failure of marketing self-regulation."

Read more about DMS research into mass-media influences on risky youth behavior at:


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