Aims: To assess the impact of alcohol advertising and media exposure on future adolescent alcohol use.
Methods: We searched MEDLINE, the Cochrane Library, Sociological Abstracts, and PsycLIT, from 1990 to September 2008, supplemented with searches of Google scholar, hand searches of key journals and reference lists of identified papers and key publications for more recent publications. We selected longitudinal studies that assessed individuals' exposure to commercial communications and media and alcohol drinking behaviour at baseline, and assessed alcohol drinking behaviour at follow-up. Participants were adolescents aged 18 years or younger or below the legal drinking age of the country of origin of the study, whichever was the higher.
Results: Thirteen longitudinal studies that followed up a total of over 38,000 young people met inclusion criteria. The studies measured exposure to advertising and promotion in a variety of ways, including estimates of the volume of media and advertising exposure, ownership of branded merchandise, recall and receptivity, and one study on expenditure on advertisements. Follow-up ranged from 8 to 96 months. One study reported outcomes at multiple time-points, 3, 5, and 8 years. Seven studies provided data on initiation of alcohol use amongst non-drinkers, three studies on maintenance and frequency of drinking amongst baseline drinkers, and seven studies on alcohol use of the total sample of non-drinkers and drinkers at baseline. Twelve of the thirteen studies concluded an impact of exposure on subsequent alcohol use, including initiation of drinking and heavier drinking amongst existing drinkers, with a dose response relationship in all studies that reported such exposure and analysis. There was variation in the strength of association, and the degree to which potential confounders were controlled for. The thirteenth study, which tested the impact of outdoor advertising placed near schools failed to detect an impact on alcohol use, but found an impact on intentions to use.
Conclusions: Longitudinal studies consistently suggest that exposure to media and commercial communications on alcohol is associated with the likelihood that adolescents will start to drink alcohol, and with increased drinking amongst baseline drinkers. Based on the strength of this association, the consistency of findings across numerous observational studies, temporality of exposure and drinking behaviours observed, dose-response relationships, as well as the theoretical plausibility regarding the impact of media exposure and commercial communications, we conclude that alcohol advertising and promotion increases the likelihood that adolescents will start to use alcohol, and to drink more if they are already using alcohol.