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Increasing awareness of the dangers and consequences of underage drinking has played an important role in reducing the number of youth who drink under twenty-one.  In fact, the government reports consumption by eighth grade, tenth grade and twelfth grade students is at record low levels.  But in order to provide real guidance to those facing the challenges of this issue each day, it is important that we stick to the facts. 

In the February issue of Pediatrics, Jerry Grenard, PhD, published a study regarding teen exposure to alcohol ads.  Unfortunately, his study was limited in many ways.  The respondents hail from public middle schools in Los Angeles County only.  As a result, their demographics do not reflect those of the national middle school population making national projections of the results impossible. Also, attrition among the sample reveals only approximately 60% of the 7th grade sample was still available in 10th grade.  In order to put the study’s results in the proper context, news coverage of this study failed to point out these important shortcomings.

Second, the article failed to tell its readers that for twenty years parents have consistently been found to be the leading influence on kids’ decisions to drink for youth aged 13 to 17. By a wide margin, parents lead siblings, best friends, teachers, what youth see in the media and what they see in ads.  In fact, in 2012, the GfK Roper Youth Report says 73% of youth report their parents are their leading influence on whether they drink alcohol or not while less than 2% say it’s the ads they see or the media they watch.  What’s more, this gap is widening with more calling their parents their leading influence and fewer, still, saying they’re influenced by ads or what they see in the media.

The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, funded by America’s leading distillers, has emphasized the importance of parents talking with their kids about underage drinking through our Ask, Listen, Learn; Kids and Alcohol Don’t Mix program and other initiatives such as Girl Talk and Parents, You’re not Done Yet.  Over the last ten years 62% more kids reported talking with their parents about underage drinking.  To find out more about these and other Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility programs visit www.responsibility.org.  Increasing awareness of an issue is a good thing but sensationalizing it without the facts is not.