New study shows alcohol advertisers use magazines to target youth

David Jernigan is an Associate Professor and the Director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing to Youth at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University.  He has spent many years studying alcohol advertising to youth.  In a new article published in The Journal of Adolescent Health, Elizabeth Rhoades, also at Johns Hopkins, and Jernigan reported on their study on alcohol advertising in magazines.  Corporations and Health Watch’s Nicholas Freudenberg asked Jernigan some questions about the new study.  In addition, David Jernigan’s recent column on state laws to control alcohol marketing to youth “Under the Influence” was recently posted Huff Post Science. To read it, click here


CHW: How did you do this study?

DJ:  We examined 1,261 ads for alcopops, beer, spirits or wine that appeared more than 2,500 times in 11 magazines that are popular among teens. These magazines have youth readerships equaling or exceeding 15 percent.  The ads were rated according to a number of factors, such as whether they portrayed over-consumption of alcohol, addiction content, sex-related content, or injury content.


CHW:  How common were ads with sexual themes?

DJ: Almost one-fifth of the ads contained sexual connotations or sexual objectification.


CHW:  What kinds of alcoholic beverages were being advertised in the magazines you studied?

DJ: We found that in our sample, ads were concentrated across type of alcohol, brand and outlet, with spirits representing about two-thirds of the sample, followed by ads for beer, which comprised almost another 30 percent. The ten most advertised brands, a list comprised solely of spirits and beer brands, accounted for 30 percent of the sample, and seven brands were responsible for more than half of the violations of industry marketing guidelines.


CHW: And what were your conclusions?

DJ:   The content of alcohol ads placed in magazines is more likely to be in violation of industry guidelines if the ad appears in a magazine with sizeable youth readership.  We also found that the prevalence of problematic content in magazine alcohol advertisements is concentrated in advertising for beer and spirits brands.  Violations of industry guidelines and addiction content appear to increase with the size of youth readerships, suggesting that individuals aged 21 and under may be more likely to see such problematic content than adults.


CHW:  What does your study say about the alcohol industry’s voluntary codes? 

DJ:   The finding that violations of the alcohol industry’s advertising standards were most common in magazines with the most youthful audiences tells us self-regulated voluntary codes are failing. It’s time to seriously consider stronger limits on youth exposure to alcohol advertising.


CHW: So what’s the bottom line meaning of your study?

DJ: Alcohol is responsible for 4,700 deaths per year among young people under the age of 21, and is associated with the three leading causes of death among youth: motor vehicle crashes, homicide and suicide.  Youth are getting hit repeatedly by ads for spirits and beer in magazines geared towards their age demographic.  At least 14 studies have found that the more young people are exposed to alcohol advertising and marketing, the more likely they are to drink, or if already drinking, to drink more. This report should serve as a wake-up call to parents and everyone else concerned about the health of young people.


CHW: What’s the mission of your Center?

DJ:  The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) monitors the marketing practices of the alcohol industry to focus attention and action on industry practices that jeopardize the health and safety of America’s youth. Reducing high rates of underage alcohol consumption and the suffering caused by alcohol-related injuries and deaths among young people requires using the public health strategies of limiting the access to and the appeal of alcohol to underage persons.

Photos courtesy of Center on Alcohol Marketing to Youth