LEBANON — A new national survey links teen binge drinking to alcohol brand references in pop music, according to a study by the University of Pittsburgh and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center in Lebanon.
“They associate being a rock star or being a movie star with the behavior, and that’s a positive association,” said senior author of the study James D. Sargent, M.D., co-director of the Cancer Control Research Program at Norris Cotton Cancer Center and professor of pediatrics in the Geisel School of Medicine. “It’s all related to the star power that’s endorsing the products.”
In the national randomized survey of more than 2,500 people ages 15 to 23, the researchers found that policy and educational interventions designed to limit the influence of alcohol brand references in popular music could be important in reducing alcohol consumption in teens and young adults. The findings have recently published online in the journal “Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.”
“I think if you ended product placement in songs, movie and television for alcohol that would go a long way for making it better. That would decrease the exposure dramatically,” Sargent said. “A lot of these mentions, at least some of them, are paid for. Brands pay musicians to publicize their products.”
In the past, Sargent has studied television and movie product placement and its connection to alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking and teens.
“We’ve up to now focused a lot on movies, on this one we turned our focus to music,” he said.
The researchers used a sample of about 60 songs that had mentions of alcohol brands in them.
“These songs come from popular music generally, but in terms of genre they tend to be more in the rap genre,” Sargent said.
When surveyed, 10 song titles were pulled from a hat and the study participants were asked if they had heard the song, if they liked it and if they owned it.
The more times they said they recognized, they liked and owned any of the 10 songs they were asked about added to their risk for both drinking and binge drinking, Sargent said. “The higher the chances that they had begun drinking and that they had begun binge drinking, which is more concerning.”
The study says of the 2,541 participants who completed the survey, 1,488, or 59 percent, reported having had a complete alcoholic drink, defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor. Of those, 18 percent reported binging — or drinking heavily over a short period of time — at least monthly, and 37 percent reported having had problems, such as injuries, due to alcohol.
“I actually didn’t think it would be as strong as it was, so I was a little surprised by the results,” Sargent said, adding that the vocal endorsements for the products are often reinforced with images of the artist using or showcasing the product in their music video for the song.
Alcohol is considered the third leading lifestyle-related cause of death in the U.S., according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.