Does alcohol marketing lead to increased drinking?

adsbeerIn a systematic review, published 9th June, 2016 in BMC Public Health, we combined data from randomized, experimental studies that investigated the immediate effects of viewing alcohol marketing on alcohol consumption and alcohol-related cognitions. The studies we identified all focused on either the effects of alcohol advertisements or portrayals of alcohol use by characters in TV programmes and films.

Combining results from 7 studies with 758 participants, we found that individuals who viewed alcohol advertising consumed more alcohol than those who viewed non-alcohol advertising. This effect was equivalent to an increase of between 0.39 and 2.67 alcohol units for males and between 0.25 and 1.69 units for females (based on UK population data on the amount of alcohol consumed on the heaviest day of drinking in the past week by drinkers aged over 18).

We did not find evidence that viewing portrayals of drinking in TV programmes and films influenced the amount of alcohol consumed. Evidence on the cognitive effects of alcohol marketing was mixed – we found no effect of alcohol advertising on alcohol-related cognitions, though did find that viewing media portrayals of alcohol use led to increases in positive alcohol-related attitudes and outcome expectancies.

Our findings about the immediate effects of a one-off exposure to alcohol advertising on alcohol consumption complement evidence from previous systematic reviews that have focused on long-term effects, particularly among young people. In our view, these findings lend some qualified support to the public health case for restrictions, bans, or other policies that would reduce exposure to alcohol advertising on visual broadcast media to reduce alcohol consumption at the population level.

Immediate effects of alcohol marketing communications and media portrayals on consumption and cognition: a systematic review and meta-analysis of experimental studies. Stautz K*, Brown KG*, King SE, Shemilt I, Marteau TM. (* = joint first authors)

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