AMA’s Alcohol Information and Statistics: Beware of Distortions

Although it’s a professional medical group, the American Medical Association (AMA) is also a major political group. In its efforts to influence public policy, the AMA plays fast and loose with facts. Thus, AMA’s alcohol information and statistics are often either wrong or misleading.

100,000 Beer Commercials

The AMA has said that it “long has focused on how alcohol advertising affects young people, who, studies show, typically will see 100,000 beer commercials before reaching age 18.” 1

In reality, not a single study has ever shown that young people see 100,000 beer ads before age 18. No such study exists. The AMA has gullibly presented an urban myth as fact.

Most professionals in the field of addictions have long known that this statistic false. It’s a figment of imagination that has absolutely no basis in fact.2 Perhaps the AMA was unaware of this is common knowledge. But simple common sense should have suggested to anyone it’s impossible.

AMA’s alcohol information There are about 6,205 days between birth and the 18th birthday. Does the AMA really think that even newborns watch TV? And that they somehow understand the content of ads?

Also, to see 100,000 beer commercials during that time, the person would have to see over 16 beer commercials each and every day on average. That fact should have caused the AMA to try to verify the truth of its statement. Of course, it never did. So much for the accuracy of AMA’s alcohol information and statistics.

Unscientific Surveys

A student who did an internet survey to estimate teen alcohol use would probably get an “F.” That’s because an internet survey would be unscientific. It would violate the most basic principles of survey research. So the results would be misleading.

Research ethics require that the results of an internet survey be clearly identified as unscientific. That’s in order to alert and protect the public. But the AMA has failed to disclose this in its press releases of its widely publicized reports.3 Therefore, its findings are often inconsistent with those of federal and other research.

The AMA also passes off flawed and debunked “studies” by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth. That’s an activist, not a scientific group.4

“Marketing to Underage People”

The AMA also states, without any evidence whatsoever, that alcopops are aggressively marketed to underage people. It insists that “parents should be outraged” that these beverages “clearly target” underage persons.5 That’s strong language.

But the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has thoroughly investigated that charge several times. It has carefully studied internal company documents, product placement in stores, and data presented by alcohol activist groups. It’s also studied much more evidence.

In each and every case the FTC has found no evidence of targeting to those who are underage. In fact, it has found that most of those who drink “alcopops” are over age 27.6  That doesn’t reflect well on the AMS’s alcohol information.

“Alcohol Advertising Causes Drinking Problems”

An AMA headline shouts: “Break needed from alcohol ads. Alcohol advertising is one of the major ‘culprits’ causing alcohol abuse…” 7 The AMA insists over and over that alcohol ads cause people to drink and to abuse alcohol. But decades of research by governments, health agencies, and universities around the world belie the AMA’s claim.

Successful alcohol ads increase an companies market share. It do so at the expense of less successful ads, who lose market share.8

Alcohol ads don’t increase overall alcohol sales. Nor stimulate alcohol abuse, nor induce non-drinkers to become drinkers. But that doesn’t stop the AMA from making its baseless charges. The AMA’s alcohol simply have no credibility. It might be right…or wrong. So people can’t trust it.

Censorship

Currently, the AMA is calling for voluntary bans on alcohol ads. But its long-term goal is to eliminate virtually all alcohol ads. “The Association has long had a policy calling for a ban on all alcohol advertising outside of liquor stores and bars. ‘The AMA still wants a ban, but you have to get half-way to your destination before you complete the trip,’”said Dr. Scott of the AMA.9

A major obstacle to the AMA’s goal of censorship is the First Amendment of the Constitution and its guarantee of free speech. The AMA’s alcohol information should reflect reality, not ideology.

Underage Drinking “Epidemic”

The AMA repeatedly refers to an “epidemic“ of underage drinking.10 But in reality alcohol consumption by young people continues to drop. For example, among those age 12-17, about half were regular drinkers in 1979. But today, fewer than one in five are, according to federal surveys.11 But there’s an epidemic says the AMA!

The proportion of high school seniors who have ever consumed alcohol is down.12

AMA's alcohol information
Figure 1

The proportion of high school seniors who have consumed alcohol within previous year is down. 13

AMA's alcohol information
Figure 2

The proportion of high school seniors who have consumed alcohol within previous 30 days is down. 14

AMA's alcohol information
Figure 3

The proportion of high school seniors who have recently consumed alcohol daily is down. 15

AMA's alcohol information
Figure 4

The proportion of high school seniors who have consumed 5 or more drinks on an occasion within previous two weeks is down. 16

AMA's alcohol information
Figure 5

Similarly, the proportion of entering college freshmen last year who drank fell to the lowest level in the 38-year history of the American College Freshman survey conducted annually by UCLA and the American Council on Education.17

AMA Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse

The AMA describes its Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse as “a national program office of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.”18 The temperance-oriented Foundation establish the AMA’s office with an initial $5 million dollar grant. It also has poured many millions of dollars more into funding its activities.19

One of the Office’s activities has been to give ten universities $9 million to implement neo-prohibitionist practices on their campuses. A careful evaluation of the program by one of its boosters found that the program is completely ineffective. It fails to reduce either drinking or alcohol abuse. Yet the AMA continues to promote the program as if it were actually effective.

The AMA has virtually ignored the widespread steroid use and other drug abuse so common in many sports. But it repeatedly attacks NASCAR for permitting distillers to advertise or sponsor racecars.

Ignoring Facts

NASCAR has for decades allowed beer and wine ads and sponsorships. Attacking NASCAR’s logical decision not to discriminate against distilled spirits (liquor) is not rational.

AMA’s alcohol information
Standard Drinks

Standard drinks have the amount of pure alcohol. That is, six-tenths of an ounce.20

Alcohol is alcohol. They’re all the same to a breath tester. So they should be to the AMA as well.

A Suggestion

The US has a big health care crisis. Millions of people can’t afford medical care andmedical insurance costs are skyrocketing. Columnist Mark DeCotis says it well. “Perhaps the AMA should refocus its concern on the myriad of other problems affecting Americans that it, as the main voice for physicians in this country, can control, such as affordable health care.” 21

Amen.

AMA’s Alcohol Information and Statistics

Resources

Footnotes

1. AMA. Break needed from alcohol ads. Alcohol advertising is one of the primary culprits in the normalization of youth drinking. Addressing it is an important part of the effort to curb underage alcohol use. amednews, editorial.

2. Hanson, D. Preventing Alcohol Abuse.

3. AMA. AMA warns teenage girls about dangers of drinking “alcopops” Sweeter alcoholic drinks are being marketed especially to adolescent females, the AMA charges. amednews.

4. See Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth: Its Objectives and Methods.

5. AMA. Teenage girls targeted for sweet-flavored alcoholic beverages: Polls show more teen girls see “alcopop” ads than women age 321-34. AMA press release.

6. FTC. Alcohol Marketing and Advertising: A Report to Congress.

7. AMA. Break needed, Ibid.

8. For more visit Alcohol Advertising.

9. AMA. AMA wants to ban booze ads aimed at teens. amednews.

10. For example, AMA. Break needed. Ibid.

11. Subs Abuse and Men Health Serv Adm. (2010). Results from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Volume I. Summary of National Findings (Office of Applied Studies, NSDUH Series H-38A, HHS Publ No. SMA 10-4586 Findings). Rockville, MD.

12. Johnston, L. et al. Monitoring the Future National Survey Results on Drug Use, 1975-2018.

13.  Ibid.

14.  Ibid.

15.  Ibid.

16. Ibid.

17. Weise, E. Polls: young non-drinkers up in down economy. USA Today, Feb 7, 2011.

18. AMA. Break needed…. Op cit.

19. See Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Financier of Temperance.

20. See Alcoholic Content of Beer, Wine & Distilled Spirits.

21. DeCotis, M. Hey AMA, leave NASCAR alone to think for itself. Florida Today, Feb 1, 2015.

Notes
    • At this point you know far more about the AMA’s information and statistics than most people!
    • This site gives no advice.