AMA warns teenage girls about dangers of drinking "alcopops"
■ Sweeter alcoholic drinks are being marketed especially to adolescent females, the AMA charges.
By Victoria Stagg Elliott — Posted Jan. 17, 2005
Teenage girls are more likely to have seen marketing for "alcopops" than women who are of legal age to drink. This demographic is also more likely than teenage boys to drink these sweet-flavored malt beverages, say two polls released by the American Medical Association last month.
"The industry says they market to legal adults. Our survey presents a very different picture," said AMA President-elect J. Edward Hill, MD. "Girls drink more alcopops than boys because they taste sweeter, but we think the key... is advertising."
The AMA is concerned about this pattern because of the high alcohol content of these drinks and because they could be a gateway to beer, wine and hard liquor. Also, if consumed in excess, these drinks could lead to many of the same social and health problems associated with excess consumption of other forms of alcohol.
To assist doctors in teaching patients, the AMA has a series of education materials. The first poster, "Girlie drinks ... women's diseases," warns of the link between underage drinking and sexually transmitted diseases, liver problems and menstrual disorders. The poster can be downloaded from the Web site of the AMA Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse.
"We urge physicians who care for young people to use these posters to help inform their patients," Dr. Hill said. "Alcopops are marketed as fun, sexy and cool -- as if they are less risky to drink, but their health and safety consequences are anything but sexy or cool."
According to the polls, one-third of teen girls have tried alcopops, and a quarter of those had either driven a car after drinking or were a passenger in a car driven by someone who had been drinking. Among teens who drink, alcopops were the drink of choice of those age 12 to 18. These drinks were least favored by adult women. Half of teen girls reported seeing ads for alcopops, while only a third of adult women had seen them.
"Girls who have seen the ads drink more than girls who have not seen the ads," Dr. Hill said. "It's hard to believe that the alcohol industry is unintentionally missing their target so broadly, because this translates to sales."
A trade group representing the industry denied that marketing was intended for underage drinkers. "Brewers share the AMA's concern over illegal underage drinking regardless of the type of beverage being consumed," said Jeff Becker, president of the Beer Institute, the industry's national trade association. "Marketing for these products is directed at adults."
The polls were conducted by the AMA Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and funded in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.