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Youth Exposed to Alcohol Via Social Media

Update Date: Dec 23, 2013 09:37 AM EST

Alcohol advertising and exposure can have a huge impact on underage drinking. Several studies have found that underage youth tend to be exposed to alcohol prematurely throughout movies and television. In a new study, researchers from RAND Europe and the University of Cambridge focused on how five alcohol companies used social media to advertise their products.

The five brands that the study was centered on were Fosters, Magners, Carling, Stella Artois and Tia Maria. The researchers looked at social media websites, such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. They observed that all five-alcohol brands had a page on each social media outlet. The researchers found that on Facebook, the five companies had enforced an age restriction, which meant that adolescents under the age of 18 could not access the pages. On YouTube, however, the researchers found that there were no age limitations at all from any of the companies. When it came to Twitter, only Carling and Stella Artois enforced age restrictions. On the pages where there were no age limitations, the researchers noted that the companies had used warnings to attempt to prevent underage youth from entering the website.

"The main difference between Facebook and YouTube was that even if you were logged in as an underage person on YouTube, you could still access the alcohol pages, whereas you couldn't on Facebook," said Eleanor Winpenny, a co-author of the study from RAND Europe.

The researchers also noted that people could always lie about their age in order to gain access to the websites. These social media websites do not have an effective way of screening for users' real age. The researchers believe that with underage youth utilizing social media more so than ever before, alcohol exposure in this realm might need to be studied more in depth and possibly regulated. The data revealed that around 90 percent of people from the age group of 15 to 24 and 43.5 percent of the people from the age group of six to 14 use these types of websites.

"Whether deliberate or not, our results show that children are not protected from online marketing of alcohol," said Professor Theresa Marteau, Director of Cambridge's Behavior and Health Research Unit, a study co-author reported by Medical Xpress. "Existing evidence, based on more traditional marketing, would suggest that online marketing of alcohol will be contributing to under-age drinking."

The study was published in Alcohol and Alcoholism.

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