“The more popular a magazine is with teens, the more likely it is to contain alcohol ads,” reads one outrageously misleading headline — based on the equally misleading research bought and paid for by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). A recent study published in JAMA (the journal of the American Medical Association) and supported by funds from RWJF’s Clinical Scholars Program claims that “magazine advertising by the beer and liquor industries is associated with adolescent readership.”
Through a number-crunching process impossible to divine from the published account, the authors conclude that “with every increase of 1 million teen readers, the amount of beer and liquor ads rose by 60 percent.” But the raw data tell another story. According to JAMA, between 1997 and 2001 the major national magazines with the most alcohol advertisements were Cosmopolitan, Entertainment Weekly, In Style, Newsweek, and People Weekly. The percentage of adolescent readers in those magazines were:
Cosmopolitan — 14.7%
Entertainment Weekly — 23.7%
In Style — 28.6%
Newsweek — 14.1%
People Weekly — 12.8%
Rolling Stone — 35.1%
Sports Illustrated — 21.3%
See a pattern? No? Neither do we. While In Style had the second highest percentage of adolescent readers, it is only included in the list of top alcohol advertisers because it had so much wine advertising. Indeed, In Style was the only major magazine to have more than 100 advertisements for wine in the 1997-2001 period. And even the RWJF-funded authors concede that wine manufacturers don’t target youth.
The authors couldn’t even conclude that youth were overexposed to ads for distilled spirits. They write: “There were 1.3 times more distilled liquor advertisements in a magazine for each additional 1 million readers aged 12 to 19 year, but this association was not statistically significant.” [emphasis added]
The JAMA study was able to eke out statistical significance in beer advertisement placement; however, the authors admit that magazine placement accounts for only 4% of beer advertising, and that beer advertising comprises a mere 13 percent of total alcohol ads in magazines. The magazine with the highest ratio of beer advertisements was TV Guide, which had only a 17.8 percent youth readership.
No wonder the study’s authors were “unable to determine if the beer and distilled liquor industries intentionally target adolescents.” They didn’t prove that youth were overexposed, much less intentionally so. If alcohol companies were targeting youth, presumably they would run more than 53 advertisements over a four-year period in Allure, which had an adolescent readership of 38 percent.
All this makes the RWJF-funded Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) look even sillier. Last fall CAMY declared that “America’s parents … aren’t seeing these [alcohol] ads but their children are because that’s where the industry is putting them — in the magazines their kids read.” Explain that one to Newsweek.
There are more problems with the JAMA study. “Our advertisement counts did not distinguish,” the authors admit, “between the effect of an advertisement occupying 1 advertisement space out of 20 and an advertisement occupying 1 advertisement space out of 200. Nor did we evaluate the content of any of these advertisements.” Good work, fellows.
Why would a respected publication like JAMA publish a study with a poor methodology yielding inconclusive results? Perhaps it has something to do with JAMA’s long-standing relationship with RWJF, whose Alcohol Policy Conference 12 endorsed the idea that policy makers “must be willing to accept ‘soft’ data” to back up their agendas.
This is the second alcohol-related study JAMA has published in the last few months from RWJF-funded sources. In February, JAMA ran a study by the RWJF-funded National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse that even the CDC said “inappropriately” massaged the data.
Since 1994, RWJF has spent more than $1.3 million on a monthly series of clinical case studies published in JAMA. As of June of 2000, JAMA had published more than 100 of these articles funded by RWJF. And between 1991 and 2002, RWJF gave nearly $10 million to the American Medical Association’s office of Alcohol and other Drug Abuse. In the same period, RWJF gave more than $25 million to the AMA as a whole.