How Does Advertising Affect Teenagers?

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Teens are constantly exposed to advertisements at school, on the Internet and embedded in movies and television programs -- for one main reason. They spend. A typical American youth will view 360,000 television advertisements before graduating from high school and will buy into the culture, sometimes without having the ability to discern quality.

Body Image

The UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image, a group committed to discovering the causes of and solution to the problem of body dissatisfaction, points to advertising as a primary cause of poor self image. In their summary, "Reflections on Body Image," they report that "70 percent of teenage girls don’t participate in certain activities, because of body image anxiety." As for the cause of this anxiety, they lay the blame on "media, advertising and celebrity culture" Almost 75 percent of respondents to the consultation believe media and advertising to be the main social influences on body image. These same respondents also estimate that fewer than 5 percent of the population could ever realistically attain the body ideals presented in modern advertising.

Shaping Attitudes

A 1995 article in the "Journal of the National Cancer Institute" titled "Influence of Tobacco Marketing and Exposure to Smokers on Adolescent Susceptibility to Smoking" says that exposure to tobacco advertisements is one of the greatest predictors of whether a teen will begin smoking. Teens who recognized tobacco ads had a favorite tobacco ad and who owned a tobacco-related promotional item were more likely to take up smoking than teens who had smokers in their family. Similarly, an article in the January 2000 issue of the "Journal of Health Communication" titled "Predicting the Potential for Risky Behavior Among Those "Too Young" to Drink as the Result of Appealing Advertising" documents a study that found that advertisements for alcohol have a significant influence on teen's attitudes toward drinking.

Buying Habits

According to Alissa Quart, author of "Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers," advertisements in teen magazines encourage high-end, name brand purchases. Celebrities model high-fashion clothes. The ads encourage teens to think of designer labels as a necessity. They also encourage teens to maintain a larger, expensive wardrobe. The result of these ads is a shift in attitude toward clothing. That shift drives more extravagant buying habits, habits that advertisers hope will stay with teens into their adulthood.

Food Choices

Researchers at the University of Michigan have found that watching commercials of people eating french fries or sugary cereal activates the teen brain more than commercials about cell phones or fast cars. The lead researcher, Ashley Gearhardt, reported that the centers of the brain responsible for attention, reward and taste were all activated by these commercials. Another study conducted by Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer in Carlton, Australia and reported in the February 2012 edition of "Appetite" found that commercial television, school food marketing and digital food marketing are all linked to increased consumption of energy-dense and nutrient-poor food. School food marketing increased consumption of sweet snacks. Television commercials increased the consumption of both fast food and sweet snacks.