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The Pediatric Forum |

Limitations of Study on Alcohol Advertising Effects on Youth Drinking

Reginald Smart, PhD
Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2006;160(8):857-858. doi:10.1001/archpedi.160.8.857-b.
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The Snyder et al study1 examines drinking by youth and young adults, segments of special interest in alcohol advertising research. However, the study has serious limitations in planning and execution.

  • The study often refers to a “youth sample” but 50% were 21 years and older. Although the study is called “longitudinal,” two thirds of the sample were not followed up through the 4 interview periods.

  • Although the study is correlational and cannot show causality, alcohol advertising is assumed to be the cause of drinking. The analyses are limited to demographic and advertising variables, but variables that best explain youth alcohol consumption (eg, peer drinking, parents drinking, and religion) are left out.

  • The study claims that more advertising leads to more drinking. However, Table 2 in the Snyder et al study1 shows that those who saw the most advertising actually decreased their drinking.

  • There is no reference to experimental, economic, and advertising-ban studies, predominantly showing negative effects on alcohol consumption. This suggests a biased, 1-sided view of alcohol advertising effects.

  • The measurement of alcohol use combines average and maximum number of drinks, giving the same weight to maximum, although most drinkers rarely drink their maximum and also take maximums into account when reporting averages. The reliability and validity of the measure have not been assessed and must be suspect.

  • In areas where there was more drinking, there was more alcohol advertising, but religious and alcohol-availability factors were omitted.

  • The study had major problems with attrition because the sample went from 1872 to 588 in 21 months or 31% at time 4. The nonattriters were different than the attriters in drinking levels. With 24 media areas and less than 50% of respondents younger than 21 years, smaller areas would have few youth by time 4. There is no power analysis and the power to detect real results for youth would then be low.

  • Anomalies appear in the alcohol consumption data (eg, at baseline, black and Hispanic individuals drank substantially more than white individuals). Also, those younger than 23 years drank far more than those aged 23 to 26 years. These results suggest sampling biases, because their findings are different from large, well-established data sets.

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