My 11-year-old son watches a ton of sports on television. Weekday evenings (after his homework is done, of course) and weekend afternoons are often spent surfing from basketball to baseball and back again. If there’s a tennis match or horse racing on, he may watch that too. With all the game and tournament coverage, however, come a constant stream of commercials—a great number of which are for the likes of an ice cold Bud, Michelob, or Coors Light.
So do watching, singing along with and remembering these frequent beer and booze advertisements mean he is more likely to drink alcohol as an adolescent? Apparently, yes, that’s a distinct possibility, according to a new study reported in Science Daily.
In the study, conducted at the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, researchers questioned more than 2,500 young people ranging from 15 to 20 years old about their exposure to alcohol, if they had a favorite alcohol ad, and if they owned alcohol-branded merchandise, among other behaviors.
After being shown 20 images from the most popular TV ads for alcohol, with the brand names removed, the participants were then asked if they remembered the ads, liked the ads and knew about the products being advertised.
The results showed that 59 percent of underage kids drank alcohol. Of those who drank, 49 percent had engaged in binge drinking (had more than six drinks in a row) at least once the previous year. Familiarity with TV alcohol advertising was much higher among the drinkers than nondrinkers, and having alcohol-branded merchandise or having a favorite alcohol ad was linked to more hazardous drinking.
“Underage drinking remains an important health risk in the U.S.,” said lead author Susanne E. Tanski, MD, MPH, FAAP, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. “In this study, we have shown a link between recognition of nationally televised alcohol advertisements and underage drinking initiation and heavier use patterns.”
I have to admit, I’ve never paid much attention to the product when my son calls me over to watch his favorite commercial of-the-moment. It’s usually the witty tune or humor that he’s urging me to notice. But after learning about this study and its results, I may encourage him to take a bathroom break or go grab a snack when the game on the screen is interrupted for a commercial break.