Public Release: 

Southern California middle school students exposed to more than 3 alcohol ads each day

RAND Corporation

Adolescents in Southern California are exposed to an average of 3.1 alcohol advertisements every day, with African Americans and Hispanics regularly exposed to the highest amount of such advertising, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

African American and Hispanic youths are exposed to an average of 4.1 and 3.4 alcohol ads per day respectively, while white youths were exposed to an average of two ads per day.

RAND researchers say that some of the difference can be attributed to the greater use of media among Hispanics and African Americans, who spend 2 to 3 hours more per day than whites consuming media. However, media use cannot account for greater exposure to outdoor ads, which may suggest advertisers are targeting racial and ethnic groups based on neighborhood locations.

This study also found that girls are exposed to 30 percent more alcohol ads than boys. The research team speculates that girls may spend more time in outdoor areas that contain alcohol ads than do boys and girls are known to use more print media, both of which may account for the difference.

The findings are published online by the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

"We know underage drinking is a major public health problem, contributing to a host of problems during youth and later in life," said Rebecca Collins, co-author of the study and a senior behavioral scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. "Based on previous research, we know underage drinking appears to increase with ad exposure. It is important to find out how much exposure there is and where it occurs, so we can limit or reduce it."

The RAND study took place over a 10-month period in 2013 and 2014 and involved 589 Los Angeles area youth aged 11-14. Each of the study participants logged their exposure to alcohol advertisements in real-time over a 14-day period, using a handheld electronic device to respond to a short survey that included questions about each advertisement.

Previous studies asked young people to recall ads they saw or heard over a period of time, a method that is subject to recall bias. The RAND study is the first to ask youth to track their exposures in real-time. It also is the first to track exposures to produce a total measure of exposure across different media and venues.

The adolescents in the study were recruited from two large school districts, after-school clubs and community organizations in Southern California in order to include an ethnically and racially diverse study sample.

Thirty-eight percent of alcohol ads seen by the youths were outdoor advertisements, billboards and signs outside stores and bars, which represented the largest exposure venue. The second largest exposure was television advertisements at 26 percent. Two-thirds of all alcohol ads seen were for beer, 23 percent for liquor and 17 percent for wine. In some cases, adolescents were exposed to ads for more than one type of alcohol product simultaneously, resulting in totals greater than 100 percent.

"With the level of exposure found in our study, greater restrictions on alcohol advertising outdoors and on television should be considered," said Steven C. Martino, co-author of the study and a senior behavioral scientist at RAND.

Researchers note youth in Southern California typically commute to school through areas populated with gas stations, mini-malls and billboards where there are ample opportunities for alcohol advertising exposure.

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Support for the study was provided by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Other authors of the study are Stephanie Kovalchik, Kirsten Becker, William Shadel and Elizabeth D'Amico.

RAND Health is the nation's largest independent health policy research program, with a broad research portfolio that focuses on population health, health care costs, quality and public health systems, among other topics.

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