Small number of brands dominate underage drinking

A relatively small number of alcohol brands dominate underage youth alcohol consumption, according to a new report from researchers at the Boston University School of Public Health and the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The report, published online by Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, is the first national study to identify the alcohol brands consumed by underage youth, and has important implications for alcohol research and policy.

The top 25 brands accounted for nearly half of youth alcohol consumption. In contrast, adult consumption is nearly twice as widely spread among different brands. Close to 30 percent (27.9 percent) of the underage youth sampled reported drinking Bud Light within the past month, 17 percent had consumed Smirnoff malt beverages within the previous month, and 14.6 percent reported drinking Budweiser in the 30-day period. The list with rank, brand, and reported use in previous 30 days among underage youth is as follows:

  1. Bud Light, 27.9 percent; 2. Smirnoff malt beverages, 17.0 percent; 3. Budweiser, 14.6 percent; 4. Smirnoff vodkas, 12.7 percent; 5. Coors Light, 12.7 percent; 6. Jack Daniel's bourbons, 11.4 percent; 7. Corona Extra, 11.3 percent; 8. Mike's, 10.8 percent; 9. Captain Morgan rums, 10.4 percent; and 10. Absolut vodkas, 10.1 percent.

Of the top 25 consumed brands, 12 were spirits brands (including four vodkas), nine were beers, and four were flavored alcohol beverages.

"For the first time, we know what brands of alcoholic beverages underage youth in the U.S. are drinking," says study author David Jernigan, director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Bloomberg School. "Importantly, this report paves the way for subsequent studies to explore the association between exposure to alcohol advertising-and-marketing efforts and drinking behavior in young people."

Alcohol is responsible for 4,700 deaths per year among young people under the age of 21. More than 70 percent of high school students have consumed alcohol, and about 22 percent engage in heavy episodic drinking. At least 14 studies have found that the more young people are exposed to alcohol advertising and marketing, the more likely they are to drink, or if they are already drinking, to drink more.

The researchers surveyed 1,032 youth ages 13-20 via an Internet-based survey instrument. Respondents were asked about their past 30-day consumption of 898 brands of alcohol among 16 alcoholic beverage types, including the frequency and amount of each brand consumed.

"We now know, for the first time, what alcohol brands—and which companies—are profiting the most from the sale of their products to underage drinkers," says lead study author Michael Siegel, a professor of community health sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health. "The companies implicated by this study as the leading culprits in the problem of underage drinking need to take immediate action to reduce the appeal of their products to youth."

This research was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.