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Alcoholism & Addiction

Advertising Alcohol to Children: Does it Work?

Walking your sixth-grader’s forgotten lunch over to school, you breeze past several places of business. In the plaza very near to your child’s school there’s a salon, a coffee shop, a financial planner.

And there’s a bar. The bar’s name is advertised, but there are also several brands of beer advertised with neon signs in the front windows of the establishment. You walk on by, with the signs never gaining your attention, never mind registering as a threat to your child.

A new study says that your child is definitely noticing the neon signs. The study looked at outdoor alcohol advertising near schools to see what it was advertising and how that advertising was related to the use of alcohol by adolescents. Pasch, Komro, Perry, Hearst and Farbakhsh examined the relationship between advertising near schools and the effect on students’ drinking.

The researchers had two objectives when they began the study. They determined to document and describe all outdoor alcohol advertisements surrounding the school and to look at the association between the exposure to advertising in sixth grade and alcohol use, intentions, norms and attitudes in eighth grade.

The study took place in Chicago, documenting all outdoor alcohol advertisements within 1,500 feet of 63 schools for content and theme. The study used longitudinal mixed-effects regression analysis to establish an association between the alcohol advertisements used near a school in sixth grade and the behaviors, intentions, norms and attitudes exhibited two years later when the student was in eighth grade.

The participants were all sixth-grade students during the 2002-03 school year. The 2,586 participants were 37 percent black, 33 percent Hispanic, and 15 percent white. Gender was evenly split, and the average age of the participants was 12.2 years at the end of sixth grade.

The results of the study show that 931 advertisements were found within 1,500 feet of the school locations. As hypothesized, the exposure to alcohol advertising at the end of sixth grade was a reliable predictor of alcohol intentions at the end of eighth grade. The hypothesis was consistent even among those students who did not use alcohol in sixth grade.

The results of the study hold important information for parents of children at the middle school age, especially in urban settings where outdoor advertising near schools is common. The study shows how influential advertising can be on even a sixth-grader who is a non-user of alcohol.

The findings of the study show that there may be good reason to pursue restriction of alcohol advertising near schools and other places that children frequent.

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