WEDNESDAY, April 21, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- The next time you're watching TV with your teen, you might want to pay as much attention to the messages in the commercials as you do to the content of the show.
That's because many shows popular with teens bombard them with ads for alcohol, according to a new study from Georgetown University.
"Kids are being swamped. There was an enormous increase in alcohol ads between 2001 and 2002," said study co-author David Jernigan, research director for the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University. "All of the top shows had alcohol ads. Teenagers were more likely to see ads for beer and other alcohol than for soda pop."
The report, released on the center's Web site Wednesday, found the number of ads for alcohol on local, network and cable television was 39 percent higher in 2002 than in 2001. A total of 289,381 ads for alcoholic beverages ran on TV in 2002.
On a per capita basis, youngsters between 12 and 20 were more likely than adults to have seen more than 65,000 ads for alcohol. On average, however, most teens saw between 280 and 780 alcohol ads, the study found.
Spending on alcohol advertising on TV rose dramatically during the one year covered by the report. In 2002, alcohol manufacturers spent $990 million marketing their products on television -- a 22 percent increase over the year before.
Jernigan said parents should be concerned because exposure to alcohol ads is a risk factor for teen drinking.
The researchers compared the ratings of television shows and the number of alcohol advertisements they contained. They found that all of the top 15 television shows from October 2002 contained some advertisements for alcohol, including beer, distilled spirits and "low-alcohol refreshers" such as Smirnoff Ice, Bacardi Silver and Skyy Blue.
Six of the top-rated 15 shows were watched by a disproportionately large number of teens between 12 and 20. According to the study, that meant that more than 13.3 percent -- the percentage of teens in the general population -- of the audience was in that age range. The shows were: "Smallville," "7th Heaven," "Angel," "Gilmore Girls," "Charmed" and "That '70s Show."
"That '70s Show" contained the largest number of ads -- 1,047 -- for alcohol during 2002, followed by "Smallville" with 387 and "Angel" with 125. The other three shows all had fewer than 50 alcohol ads during 2002.
"This seems to be like what the cigarette companies used to do," said Alan Hilfer, a child psychologist and director of training in psychology at Maimonides Medical Center in New York City. "I had no idea teens were being flooded with these ads. It puts alcohol in their minds as something that's acceptable and intriguing, and it gives the alcohol companies a way of beginning to establish a market base for later on. It bodes badly for all of our attempts to help teenagers not drink."
Hilfer said the alcohol industry should reassess what it's doing and limit or eliminate ads directed at teens.
Jernigan and his colleagues recommend the alcohol industry adopt the suggestions of the Institute of Medicine and not air alcohol ads on shows with more than a 15 percent teen audience, instead of the industry's current self-regulation of 30 percent. Doing so would only restrict ads from about one in four shows. But, had that suggestion been implemented in 2002, alcohol manufacturers would have had to move more than 61,000 ads.
"This would go a long way to eliminating youth overexposure to alcohol ads," said Jernigan. "Teens shouldn't be more likely than adults to see ads for alcohol."
Jeff Becker, president of The Beer Institute in Washington, D.C., said, "While this latest CAMY (Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth) report attempts to criticize the alcohol industry's advertising demographics, ironically, the report admits that the beer industry is responsible in its advertising practices."
"The CAMY report shows that 90 percent of the total audience for television shows with alcohol advertising was adults 21 and older. Furthermore, the report notes that 'the alcohol industry spent 60 percent of its television advertising on sports programming, where the average youth audience composition was a mere 6.5 percent,'" he said.
"Most importantly, numerous independent studies have found no significant link between advertising and underage drinking," Becker added. "The Roper Youth Report has consistently shown over the past decade that the most important influence on young people's (aged 8-17) decisions about drinking are their parents, not advertising."