Television commercials, radio ads and internet popups are ubiquitous in our society. There are commercials for toys, politicians, food, soda and alcohol. The majority of the food and drinks advertised are processed and loaded with sugar. When was the last time we viewed a commercial about small businesses that focus on a healthier lifestyle and greener planet? These types of ads rarely exist, especially on cable television.
Although the tobacco companies have been banned from advertising on television and radio since 1971, alcohol brands continue to make a prominent mark in advertising and media. Can alcohol ads increase the prevalence of alcohol use in people, especially teenagers?
The link between advertising and teen alcohol use
Budweiser, Heineken, and Dos Equis are the three most common beer brands advertised in commercials. A study entitled, “Alcohol Brand Placement in Television Shows: A Content Coding Analysis and Comparison with Youth Brand Preference” showed that the most commonly advertised alcohol brands on television were the most common alcohol brands consumed by teenagers.
“Researchers then asked more than 2,600 youth between the ages of 15 and 20 how much they watched these 10 shows, along with questions about their drinking behavior and favorite alcohol brand. The brands that were most prominent across the TV shows tended to be the brands that underage youth chose as their favorite, according to the study. Youth who reported higher levels of watching TV shows with more prominent brand placement also reported higher levels of problematic drinking behavior, like binge drinking,” reported ScienceDaily in an analysis of the American Academy of Pediatrics study.
Is this actually a direct correlation? Does advertising alcohol on television cause more alcoholism? Does the population who watches cable television live a more sedentary lifestyle causing depression that potentially leads to alcoholism? There are many confounders in this study that could not be tested. Although it is known that alcohol consumption and advertising are multimillion industries, would alcohol rates decrease if advertising decreased?
A search for solutions
Another controversial question is who is to blame? Is it the cable industry for allowing this, the alcohol companies for targeting teenagers, the parents’ fault for allowing cable television in their homes? Cable television is not a necessity. It is expensive and there are many other alternative options without commercials that provide access to almost every show on cable. Yet it is so easy to blame the “big guys” like the alcohol companies and the cable companies for not listing ratings on commercials, but it is each individual’s duty and responsibility to research these issues and decide if there is an alternative and safer way to watch television in the home. Luckily, there is, but it would be interesting to see a study comparing teenagers who did not have access to cable television to teenagers who have access to cable television and to determine the alcohol consumption rates among these teenagers.
“Given the significant health implications of underage drinking, the Federal Trade Commission needs to place more emphasis on monitoring and limiting alcohol brand placement … in media,” said clinical child psychologist Joy Gabrielli, Ph.D., in an interview with ScienceDaily. The report concluded that alcohol brand placement should be determined by “the TV ratings system (TV-PG, TV-14, TV-MA).”
Will this actually help? What if we as a society spent our free time away from media? Would we all be better off?
Sovereign Health of California is a leading behavioral health care provider with locations across the United States that treat people with drug and alcohol addiction, mental health disorders and dual diagnosis. In addition, we educate our patients on the benefits of developing healthy lifestyle habits like exercise, nutrition, enjoying nature and sleep hygiene. For more information, please call our 24/7 helpline.
About the author
Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a senior staff writer at the Sovereign Health Group and enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the cutting-edge world of medicine. She is a physician and author, who also teaches, practices medicine in the urgent care setting and contributes to medicine board education. She is also an outdoor and dog enthusiast. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org