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Youth Exposure to Alcohol Advertising on Radio --- United States, June--August 2004

Please note: An erratum has been published for this article. To view the erratum, please click here. 

In the United States, more underage youth drink alcohol than smoke tobacco or use illicit drugs (1). Excessive alcohol consumption leads to many adverse health and social consequences and results in approximately 4,500 deaths among underage youth each year (1,2). Recent studies have emphasized the contribution of alcohol marketing to underage drinking and have demonstrated that a substantial proportion of alcohol advertising appears in media for which the audience composition is youth-oriented (i.e., composed disproportionately of persons aged 12--20 years) (3,4). To determine the proportion of radio advertisements that occurred on radio programs with audiences composed disproportionately of underage youth and the proportion of total youth exposure to alcohol advertising that occurs as a result of such advertising, researchers at the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (Health Policy Institute, Georgetown University, District of Columbia) evaluated the placement of individual radio advertisements for the most advertised U.S. alcohol brands and the composition of audiences in the largest 104 markets in the United States. This report summarizes the results of that study, which indicate that alcohol advertising is common on radio programs which have disproportionately large youth audiences and that this advertising accounts for a substantial proportion of all alcohol radio advertising heard by underage youth. These results further indicate that 1) the current voluntary standards limiting alcohol marketing to youth should be enforced and ultimately strengthened, and 2) ongoing monitoring of youth exposure to alcohol advertising should continue.

In this study, underage youth were defined as persons aged 12--20 years. Age 12 years is the youngest age at which exposure to radio advertising is tracked, and age 21 years is the minimum legal drinking age in all U.S. states. Radio programs based on three levels of youth audience composition were assessed. The first level was based on a market-specific proportionate standard in which the proportion of the audience aged 12--20 years exceeded its proportion in the general population of a given local market. The second level was based on a standard in which the proportion of youth aged 12--20 years exceeded 15% of the audience; this corresponds to the proportion of the U.S. population aged >12 years who are aged 12--20 years. This is also the threshold above which the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine (NRC/IOM) recommends that alcohol companies refrain from advertising. The third level was based on a standard in which the proportion of youth aged 12--20 years exceeded 30% of the audience; this threshold represents the level above which major alcohol companies have agreed not to advertise on radio and other media.

Overall, 238 unique radio advertisements for the 25 most advertised alcohol brands were catalogued by Video Monitoring Service (New York, New York). Nonproduct advertisements (e.g., advertisements promoting responsible drinking) were excluded from the analysis. Data on the frequency with which these advertisements appeared on individual radio programs in the top 104 media markets in the United States, which account for approximately 50% of the U.S. population (5), were obtained from Broadcast Verification Services (New York, New York). Advertising occurrences were identified for 24 of the 25 leading brands. To assess variability in advertising by metropolitan area, a subset of the advertisements in the sample from the 15 largest U.S. radio markets, which account for approximately one third of the U.S. population (5), were analyzed. Monitoring took place during June 15--August 5, 2004. This period was selected because this period typically has the highest spending for alcohol advertising (6), and 2004 was the most recent year for which data on advertising placement were available. Data on listener characteristics (e.g., audience composition by age, race/ethnicity, and sex) for the summer of 2003, the most recent comparable rating period for which data were available, were obtained from Arbitron Ratings (New York, New York). Advertisements that aired between midnight and 6:00 a.m., which accounted for 3% of all alcohol advertising placements, were excluded because Arbitron does not collect audience data for these hours.

Of the 67,404 alcohol advertisements assessed in the sample from all 104 markets, 32,800 (49%) were placed on programming for which the local audience was composed disproportionately of underage youth (i.e., the market-specific proportionate standard) (Table 1). In the 15 largest radio markets, 11,084 (48%) of 22,884 alcohol advertisements were placed on programming with disproportionately large youth audiences, ranging from 24% in Houston to 76% in Atlanta (Table 1).

Results based on a 15% threshold were similar to those based on the market-specific proportionate standard. For example, 52% of alcohol advertisements in all 104 markets and 49% of advertisements in the 15 largest markets aired on radio programs for which the youth audience composition was >15%.

Of all advertisements in the 104 markets, 9,158 (14%) aired on programs for which youth represented >30% of listeners (Table 1). In 13 markets, approximately one half of advertisements were in programs that exceeded the 30% standard, whereas in 13 other markets, no advertising placements exceeded the 30% threshold. In the 15 largest radio markets, 2,948 (13%) of the advertisements aired on programs in which >30% of the audience was aged 12--20 years, ranging from 5% in Miami to 38% in Washington, D.C.

The proportion of alcohol advertising placed on radio programs with disproportionately large youth audiences also varied by brand. For 11 of 24 brands, approximately half of all their youth exposure resulted from placements that exceeded the 30% threshold, including five brands for which approximately three quarters of youth exposure resulted from these placements.*

Overall, 71% of total youth exposure to radio alcohol advertising was accounted for by advertisements on programs with disproportionately large youth audiences, and 32% of advertising exposure was accounted for by advertisements that aired on programs exceeding the 30% threshold (Table 2). In the 15 largest markets, the percentage of exposure coming from advertisements on programming with disproportionately large youth audiences ranged from 44% in San Francisco to 89% in Dallas, and the percentage of exposure from advertisements on programs for which >30% of the audience was youth ranged from 5% in Atlanta to 59% in Detroit.

Brand-specific exposure to radio advertising also varied by the sex and racial/ethnic composition of the audience. Compared with boys, underage girls had higher levels of exposure to 11 alcohol brands and in 41 of the 104 markets and less exposure to 13 brands and in 63 markets. Compared with all youth, black youth had greater exposure to radio alcohol advertising in 25 of the 104 markets and less in 79 markets, and Hispanic youth were exposed to more alcohol advertising in 13 markets and less in 91 markets.

Reported by: DH Jernigan, PhD, Georgetown Univ, District of Columbia. J Ostroff, CS Ross, MBA, Virtual Media Resources, Natick, Massachusetts. TS Naimi, MD, RD Brewer, MD, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, CDC.

Editorial Note:

The findings in this report indicate that approximately half of alcohol advertising on radio aired during programs in which the audience was youth-oriented (i.e., composed disproportionately of persons aged 12--20 years). Furthermore, advertisements on such programs accounted for nearly three quarters of all youth exposure to alcohol advertising. Were advertising eliminated from programs that exceeded the more permissive current voluntary standard used by the alcoholic beverage industry, which stipulates that a program's audience be <30% youth aged 12--20 years, total youth exposure to alcohol advertising would decrease by approximately one third.

Longitudinal studies have determined that increased exposure to alcohol advertising is associated with an increase in underage drinking (3,4). Furthermore, persons aged 12--19 years listen to the radio more than they use the Internet or read magazines for pleasure (7), underscoring the importance of radio as a medium for exposure to advertising. Overexposure of youth to alcohol marketing in other media (e.g., television and magazines) also has been well documented (8).

The amount of alcohol advertising placed in programming that exceeded the 30% threshold has decreased since the summer of 2003, when analysis of a similar sample found that 28% (versus 14% in this report) of advertisements exceeded that threshold and accounted for 53% (versus 32% in this report) of all youth advertising exposure (9). This reduction occurred, in part, because in 2003, the Beer Institute and Distilled Spirits Council joined the Wine Institute in adopting a 30% youth threshold for advertising placement; their previous voluntary threshold had been 50%. The change from 2003 to 2004 suggests that companies selling alcohol can change their advertising placement policies and that these changes have an impact on the exposure of youth to alcohol advertising.

The findings in this report are subject to at least two limitations. First, the findings are based on youth exposure to only the most heavily advertised alcohol products and apply only to media markets and periods for which relevant data were assessed. Second, audience data from the summer of 2003 might not accurately represent the audience composition in the summer of 2004. However, marketing professionals rely on data from the preceding year to plan their upcoming advertising campaigns; thus, these data were comparable to what was available to marketing professionals who made decisions about where to air their alcohol advertisements in the summer of 2004.

NRC/IOM recognizes that reducing exposure to alcohol marketing among youth is a key strategy to combat the ongoing problem of underage drinking. Specifically, they have recommended immediate adoption of a 25% threshold for youth audience composition for placement of alcohol advertisements, with an eventual movement toward a 15% threshold. The findings in this report also support the use of this 15% threshold to define youth-oriented media for the purpose of conducting public health surveillance for alcohol advertising, because the total local market composition of youth aged 12--20 years for the top 104 media markets was approximately 15% and because the proportion of alcohol advertising on radio using a market-specific proportionate standard (49%) was similar to the proportion using a 15% threshold (52%). NRC/IOM has also recommended that the federal government monitor the exposure of youth to alcohol advertising and report the results annually (1). Ongoing, independent surveillance of advertising practices in the alcoholic beverage industry will be necessary to ensure compliance with advertising standards and will be useful for assessing additional interventions to reduce exposure to alcohol advertising among underage youth.


The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth is supported by grants from The Pew Charitable Trusts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Princeton, New Jersey.


  1. Bonnie RJ, O'Connell ME, eds. Reducing underage drinking: a collective responsibility. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2003.
  2. CDC. Alcohol-attributable deaths report, 2001. Available at
  3. Snyder LB, Milici FF, Slater M, Sun H, Strizhakova Y. Effects of alcohol advertising exposure on youth drinking. Arch Pediatr Adoles Med 2006;160:18--24.
  4. Hastings G, Anderson S, Cooke E, Gordon R. Alcohol marketing and young people's drinking: a review of the research. J Public Health Policy 2005;26:296--311.
  5. Arbitron Ratings. Summer 2003 Arbitron market reports. New York, NY: Arbitron Ratings; 2003.
  6. Miller-Kaplan Associates. Radio expenditure data, 2001--2002. North Hollywood, CA: Miller, Kaplan, Arase, and Company, LLP; 2003.
  7. Teenage Research Unlimited. The TRU study, wave 45. Northbrook, IL: Teenage Research Unlimited; 2005.
  8. Jernigan DH, Ostroff J, Ross C. Alcohol advertising and youth: a measured approach. J Public Health Policy 2005;26:312--25.
  9. Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth. Radio daze: alcohol ads tune in underage youth. Washington, DC: Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth; 2003. Available at

* Data available at

Table 1

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Table 2

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