New Report Determines that Alcohol Ads Lead to Youth Drinking

According to a new report completed by investigators at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine and the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, the relationship between exposure to alcohol marketing and underage drinking is causal.

The findings are the result of a rigorous meta-analysis of eight review articles, published as a supplement to the journal, which synthesized the results of more than 160 studies on alcohol advertising and youth alcohol consumption.

Each of the eight review articles in the supplement looked at a different aspect of alcohol marketing and drinking among young people—using a variety of research designs and measurement techniques across a number of different countries and scientific disciplines.

To determine whether marketing is a cause of youth drinking, the authors of the reviews employed the Bradford Hill criteria, a widely used framework for determining causal links between environmental exposures and disease. For example, the same criteria have been used to establish that smoking is a cause of cancer, and that marketing by cigarette companies is one cause of youth smoking.

James Sargent, MD

“Our judgement is that when marketing research is assembled and evaluated according to the Bradford Hill criteria, there is persuasive evidence that exposure to alcohol marketing is one cause of drinking onset during adolescence, and also one cause of binge drinking,” says James Sargent, MD, director of the C. Everett Koop Institute at Geisel, who co-authored the supplement’s conclusion with Thomas Babor, PhD, MPH, of the University of Connecticut.

While previous studies have established an association between alcohol advertising and youth drinking, this is the first time that public health experts have explicitly concluded that advertising causes alcohol consumption among adolescents.

Consequently, Drs. Sargent and Babor recommend that the following steps be taken: that government agencies (independent from the alcohol industry) restrict alcohol marketing exposures in the adolescent population; that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Office of the Surgeon General sponsor a series of reports on alcohol and health, similar to the ones published on tobacco; that the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism resurrect its program to fund research on alcohol marketing and vulnerable populations; and that a larger international panel of public health experts be convened to reach a broader consensus, particularly in relation to digital marketing.

“We hope that the results will serve to generate thoughtful discourse among researchers, effective prevention measures among policymakers, and an effort to reach consensus on this issue among a larger and more representative body of scientists,” says Sargent.

Founded in 1797, the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth strives to improve the lives of the communities it serves through excellence in learning, discovery, and healing. The Geisel School of Medicine is renowned for its leadership in medical education, healthcare policy and delivery science, biomedical research, global health, and in creating innovations that improve lives worldwide. As one of America’s leading medical schools, Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine is committed to training new generations of diverse leaders who will help solve our most vexing challenges in healthcare.