FRIDAY, Aug. 28, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Cable TV shows that attract a significant proportion of teenage viewers are also those that have the most ads for alcohol, new research has found.
Using Nielsen Media Research advertising industry data, researchers analyzed 600,000 ads for alcohol that aired on cable TV from 2001 through 2006. The researchers limited their analysis to shows that had an audience with less than 30 percent of viewers aged 12 to 20.
The study found that shows with a relatively higher percentage of viewers aged 12 to 20 had a higher frequency of alcohol ads, even after accounting for other factors that could explain ad placement decisions.
For every 1 percentage point increase in adolescent viewership, there was a 7 percent increase in beer ads, a 15 percent increase in spirits ads and a 22 percent increase in ads for low-alcohol refreshers or "alcopops," which are juice- or soda-like beverages that contain alcohol.
Conversely, for every 1 percent increase in adolescent viewership, ads for wine decreased by 8 percent. Researchers said this statistic shows that it is possible for advertisers to avoid shows with young audiences.
Cable TV accounts for about 95 percent of nationally televised ads for alcohol, according to the study. Previous research has shown the typical teen watches more than 200 alcohol ads on television each year.
The study, which will appear in the October issue of the American Journal of Public Health, is the first to show an association between ad placement and teen cable TV viewership, the researchers point out in a news release issued by the University of California, Los Angeles.
"Alcohol advertisers have pledged to avoid audiences made up of more than 30 percent underage viewers -- such as children's programming," said David H. Jernigan, director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth and an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in the news release. "However, many other shows have adolescent appeal. This research suggests that ads are aimed at groups that include a disproportionate number of teens, and that the alcohol industry's voluntary self-monitoring is not working to reduce adolescent exposure to ads."
The researchers noted that the study did not determine whether or not alcohol advertisers were targeting teens on purpose.
"The alcohol industry has consistently denied actively targeting teens, and our study isn't designed to test that claim," lead study author Dr. Paul J. Chung, assistant professor of pediatrics at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA and a senior natural scientist at the RAND Corp, stated in the news release. "However, the ultimate effect of their advertising strategies, intentional or not, appears to be greater exposure than might be expected if adults were the sole targets of ads."
Adolescent alcohol abuse is a serious problem in the United States, according to the study. Research has shown adolescents who abuse alcohol have a greater likelihood of problem drinking later in life.
Other research suggests that alcohol ads can influence underage drinking.
"It's difficult to document experimentally," Chung added. "But there's not too much doubt that advertising and marketing affect the behavior of both children and adults. Common sense tells us that if it didn't work, companies probably wouldn't be spending so much money on it."
Advertising designed to make alcohol look cool, tasty and fun makes it more difficult for parents, teachers and clinicians to successfully teach kids to abstain, Chung added.
The Partnership for a Drug-Free America has more on underage drinking.