The alcohol industry's self-imposed standards on advertising maintains that alcohol ads should only be featured in magazines with an under the age of 21 readership that is less than 30 percent. However, a recent study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs has revealed that alcohol brands popular with underage drinkers are advertised heavily in magazines that are read mostly by young people.

"All of the ads in our study were in complete compliance with the industry's self-regulatory guidelines," Dr. Craig Ross, lead researcher from Virtual Media Resources, said in a statement. "Parents should take note that scientific evidence is growing that exposure to alcohol advertising promotes drinking initiation and is likely to increase the frequency of consumption for kids already drinking."

Ross and his colleagues from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Boston University School of Public Health analyzed alcohol advertisements from the top 25 alcohol brands consumed by young people under the age of 21 that were featured in U.S. magazines back in 2011. The 25 brands included in this study reached young magazine readers more efficiently, compared to 308 other alcohol brands that are less popular among underage drinkers.

Eleven of the 25 alcohol brands were heavily targeted toward males between the ages of 18 and 20 while the same was true for 16 of the brands among females between the ages of 18 and 20. Overall, the top 25 alcohol brands among underage drinkers were five to nine times more likely to be exposed to readers between 18 and 20. The research team recommended limiting alcohol ads to magazines with an under 21 readership of less than 15 percent to reduce exposure among underage drinkers.

"We can't speak to what advertisers' intentions are," said Dr. David Jernigan, director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "But we can say there is clear evidence that 18- to 20-year-olds are the most heavily exposed to these ads. That's concerning because that age group is at high risk of alcohol abuse and negative consequences from drinking."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans between the ages of 12 and 20 drink 11 percent of all alcohol consumed in the U.S. Out of the high school students who took part in the 2011Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 39 percent reported drinking some amount of alcohol, 22 percent admitted to binge drinking, eight percent said they drove while drunk, and 24 percent said they rode with a driver who had been drinking all within the past 30 days.

Source: Ostroff J, Jernigan D, Ross C, et al. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. 2014.