Background: The effect of alcohol portrayals and advertising on the drinking behaviour of young people is a matter of much debate. We evaluated the relationship between exposure to alcohol advertising, marketing and portrayal on subsequent drinking behaviour in young people by systematic review of cohort (longitudinal) studies.
Methods: studies were identified in October 2006 by searches of electronic databases, with no date restriction, supplemented with hand searches of reference lists of retrieved articles. Cohort studies that evaluated exposure to advertising or marketing or alcohol portrayals and drinking at baseline and assessed drinking behaviour at follow-up in young people were selected and reviewed.
Results: seven cohort studies that followed up more than 13,000 young people aged 10 to 26 years old were reviewed. The studies evaluated a range of different alcohol advertisement and marketing exposures including print and broadcast media. Two studies measured the hours of TV and music video viewing. All measured drinking behaviour using a variety of outcome measures. Two studies evaluated drinkers and non-drinkers separately. Baseline non-drinkers were significantly more likely to have become a drinker at follow-up with greater exposure to alcohol advertisements. There was little difference in drinking frequency at follow-up in baseline drinkers. In studies that included drinkers and non-drinkers, increased exposure at baseline led to significant increased risk of drinking at follow-up. The strength of the relationship varied between studies but effect sizes were generally modest. All studies controlled for age and gender, however potential confounding factors adjusted for in analyses varied from study to study. Important risk factors such as peer drinking and parental attitudes and behaviour were not adequately accounted for in some studies.
Conclusion: data from prospective cohort studies suggest there is an association between exposure to alcohol advertising or promotional activity and subsequent alcohol consumption in young people. Inferences about the modest effect sizes found are limited by the potential influence of residual or unmeasured confounding.