This post was written by Shannon Clancy, a graduate student in the Gillings School of Global Public Health at UNC-Chapel Hill.
This weekend’s Super Bowl will attract millions of viewers. Many will tune in not for the big game but for the greatly anticipated commercials that are bound to incite laughter and dominate water cooler conversations Monday morning. This is one weekend where all eyes are on the pithy pitches of companies like Frito-Lay®, Pepsi Co. ® , and Budweiser®.
While dipping chips and watching football, health is probably a distant afterthought – but do television advertisements have an effect on our health behaviors?
A recent study conducted at the School of Community and Global health at Claremont Graduate University in California found that teens who liked alcohol ads were more likely to be persuaded to try it. Results from this study demonstrated that exposure to ads had a significant correlation with alcohol use, especially among girls. For both boys and girls, the greater their exposure to ads, the more their alcohol use increased from seventh to tenth grade. These results were consistent even when controlling for time spent watching television, involvement in extracurricular activities, and being around friends and well-known adults that drink.
This study coincides with additional research on the growing problem of underage drinking released last week. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, in 2010, more than a third of tenth graders drank, and one in four had been drunk in the past month.
Recognizing the power of television, public health has also established a presence on television through public service announcements and story lines on popular TV series that draw attention to the consequence and risks of excessive and underage drinking. Nevertheless, the airways are dominated by the lavish advertising budgets of industry giants like AB InBev and MillerCoors touting six packs (in various forms).
It’s unlikely that advertising regulations will change in the near future, but with social media it is more feasible than ever for public health and other organizations to create and deliver messages about the hazards of drinking that resonate with young people. Technology and media aside, adults and health professionals don’t need fancy images or creative slogans to have a talk with teens and give them a more truthful understanding of alcohol.
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