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11-02-2013 | Article

Lopsided underage drinking preferences hint at advertisements’ youth appeal


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medwireNews: A relatively small number of alcohol brands are disproportionately popular among underage drinkers despite the plethora of products that occupy store shelves.

To better understand brand-specific alcohol consumption in underage youth, researchers conducted an internet survey to ask 1032 youth, aged 13 to 20 years, whether they drank any of the 898 brands of alcohol that make up 16 types of alcoholic beverage during the prior 30 days. The top three alcohol brands that were most often chosen were Bud Light (27.9%), followed by Smirnoff malt beverages (17.0%), and Budweiser (14,6%).

"The striking thing about our findings is that brand preference is highly concentrated," Michael Siegel (Boston University School of Public Health, Massachusetts) told medwireNews. "About 50% of all youth market share is made up by about the top 25 brands, which is pretty remarkable given all the brands that are on the market."

Underage drinking is a major concern in the USA with alcohol being responsible for 4700 deaths per year among those under the age of 21 years. More than 70% of high school students have consumed alcohol, while 22% engage in heavy episodic drinking.

Considering these known repercussions of underage drinking along with numerous studies linking exposure to alcohol advertising and marketing to the likelihood of initiating alcohol drinking - or drinking more - the authors were surprised that their exploration of underage alcohol brand consciousness was apparently unprecedented. "When we started looking at this issue we were very shocked that this research has never been done before, given the problem of underage drinking," Siegel said.

With a concentration of brand interest and particular youth appeal being evident in their Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research study, Siegel and colleagues aim to further explore how particular brands draw such disproportionate interest among youth. One of the factors they will consider is television and magazine advertising.

"We have identified what the brands are and which companies are responsible for the problem of underage youth drinking," Siegel explained. "Now we can see whether there are aspects of the advertising that are appealing to the youth. Hopefully, these companies do the same thing."

Linking specific aspects of alcohol advertising to underage drinking would likely lead to policy that currently limit tobacco ads, which are forbidden to be televised, Spiegel explained. But at the moment, he said, the regulatory differences that dictate how these two industries advertise are on "completely different playing fields."

By Peter Sergo, medwireNews Reporter