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Underage drinking is a huge moneymaker, analysis finds

Underage drinking poses a serious threat to the health and safety of young Americans. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, (NIAAA), millions of young people every year are more likely to have problems in school, engage in risky behaviors, become victims of physical or sexual assault, or get hurt or killed in accidents as a direct result of alcohol use. 

Despite the many dangers, however, these same young people are pouring billions of dollars annually into the coffers of alcohol companies, according to a recent study which was the first of its kind.

Using the most recently available data, researchers from the University of North Carolina were able to calculate that underage youth consumed $17.5 billion worth of alcohol in 2016 alone, which added up to 8.6% of the total alcoholic drinks sold that year. Products from three companies – AB Inbev, MillerCoors and Diageo – accounted for nearly half of their alcohol consumption, the UNC analysis found.

By attributing the huge revenues gained from underage drinking to specific companies for the first time, the study authors said, they are also pointing out those companies’ clear conflict of interest. 

“The alcohol industry has said they don’t want minors to drink, but when we counted up the drinks, it was clear that they were making billions of dollars from these sales,” said co-lead author Pamela J. Trangenstein, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the university’s Gillings School of Global Public Health. “There is a clear disconnect when an industry advocates prevention but then makes billions of dollars from prevention’s failure.”

She added that if alcohol companies are truly committed to preventing underage drinking, they should also be willing to direct those revenues into an independent agency with the goal of addressing underage drinking more effectively.

“Community coalitions in North Carolina and across the country are constantly begging for dollars to support their work on underage drinking,” said Trangenstein. “Our study identifies a clear source for that badly needed funding. Families and communities are paying the price, while big alcohol companies are reaping all the benefits.”

The study was published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

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