A study by The Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) explores media representations of alcohol and their influence on teenage drinking.
Young people, alcohol and the media shows that, compared with the influence of friends, young people’s exposure to media coverage of alcohol usage and their attachment to celebrities were not important risk factors for their own alcohol consumption. Instead, estimates of their friends’ drinking and the perceived acceptability of drinking by friends were found to be much better predictors. Key findings include:
• alcohol was the most prominent substance and beverage portrayed in TV programmes watched by young people;
• when the effects of alcohol were shown, they tended to focus on intoxication and extreme effects such as violence and alcohol dependence;
• young people were critical of celebrities who were depicted drinking to intoxication; and
• neither young people nor media professionals thought that health-related messages about alcohol were newsworthy or of entertainment value.
The authors conclude that the media can help to set ‘healthy’ norms for drinking behaviour. However, policies to restrict media representations of alcohol need to be part of wider strategies involving families, friends and media professionals. Promoting better understanding of how and why alcohol messages are presented may help to improve young people’s health literacy and reduce alcohol-related problems.