Following a difficult year for food manufacturers, accused of increasing obesity among children, it is now the turn of alcoholic drinks marketers to come under fire over their unwelcome influence on American youth.

A study published in the US Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine reports that people aged 15-26 who saw more alcohol advertisements drank more than their peers in markets where there was little advertising.

The study was based on random sampling of around 1,900 people in 24 of the country's top media markets, representing nearly 80% of the US market.

The scientists found that those who reported watching more drink ads also reported drinking more alcohol on average and that the number of drinks grew by 1% for every additional ad viewed each month.

Comparing the amount that people drank with the amount of money spent on advertising, the researchers found that every additional dollar spent per capita in an ad market increased the amount young people were drinking by 3%.

Comments Leslie Snyder, the University of Connecticut researcher who led the study: "The results ... contradict claims that advertising is unrelated to youth drinking amounts: that advertising at best causes brand switching, only affects those older than the legal drinking age or is effectively countered by current educational efforts. Alcohol advertising was a contributing factor to youth drinking quantities over time."

The findings are welcome ammunition for alcohol critics. Thunders David Jernigan of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth: "Alcohol is the number one drug problem among youth and given how serious the product is, it needs to be treated different than dish soap or dog biscuits."

And, as expected, advertisers and their advisors are equally vociferous in their attempts to refute the report.

Comments Dick O'Brien, vp of the American Association of Advertising Agencies: "We've seen over the last several decades that as alcohol-advertising spending increased underage drinking substantially decreased. The raw facts of the marketplace contradict the main finding of the report."

While Jeff Becker, president of the Beer Institute, adds: "We don't believe that attacking advertising is going to solve underage drinking. What we do know does work is when parents get involved, when peers get involved when law enforcement gets involved, and when communities get involved."

Data sourced from AdWeek (USA); additional content by WARC staff