Most people old enough to drink equate "malt liquor" with super-sized cans of supercharged beer. But today's malt beverages have sexy, safe-sounding names like Zima, Citrona, Bliss, and a sweet taste that apparently goes down well with teenaged girls.
"They taste like Sprite with extra sugar," Leah Lewin told CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers. "You don't even know the limit because you keep drinking them."
Sarah Lackritz adds, "They're very easy to get into, because they don't taste like alcohol."
Sarah and her friends at Brandeis University are in their 20s now, but they were first exposed to the so-called alcopops back in high school as the first step to social drinking.
The trend so disturbed the American Medical Association, it commissioned a just-released survey on underaged consumption of flavored malt beverages.
Dr. J. Edward Hill, president-elect of the AMA, points out, "One third of teenaged girls have already tried alcopops and not only do girls drink alcopops more than than boys, they drink more of all kids of alcohol than boys."
That's right, Bowers stresses. Young girls drink more than boys.
The AMA blames what it calls a phenomenal turnaround on glitzy ads aimed more at teenage girls than adult women.
Dr. Hill says, "Teen girls who have seen the alcopop ads drink them far more often than teens who have not seen the ads."
These girls open themselves up to more than just alcoholism, he adds: problems such as breast cancer, osteoporosis and menstural disorders, as well as liver, brain and heart complications.
And the teen survey found that one in six girls who report trying alcopops were sexually active after drinking, and 25 percent drove a car after drinking or rode with a driver who had also been drinking.
In 2001, The Journal of Human Resources reported that teen girls who binge drink are 63 percent more likely to get pregnant in their teen years. And compared with non-drinkers, girls who drink suffer from higher rates of depression, suicidal thoughts and complications with puberty and menstruation.
A study released earlier this year by the Center for Alcohol Marketing and Use revealed that girls aged 12-20 saw 95 percent more magazine ads for alcopops than women over 21. Women 21-34, the age group identified as the target audience for alcohol ads, were actually less exposed per capita to magazine advertising for alcopops and beer than girls aged 12-20.
Industry officials dispute claims they target underaged drinkers, citing two recent Federal Trade Commission investigations that cleared their marketing methods.
Young people told CBS News they see ads for these products everywhere, but they're more influenced by their friends, word of mouth, and what they call the easy access to alcopops, as opposed to wine or hard liquor.
Lewin notes, "You can get them at a gas station or a supermarket. You can get them anywhere, and that's the problem."
In addition, the study found that teenaged girls report drinking alcopops more than any other alcoholic drinks. But women who can drink legally say the sweet drinks are actually their least favorite alcoholic beverage.
The AMA said the poll results underscore the need for physicians to counsel young patients and parents of adolescent children on alcohol use and its associated health risks, and advocate for policies that protect underage youth from the marketing tactics of the alcohol industry.
To assist physicians in their educational efforts, the AMA unveiled an informational poster for use in their offices.
The "Girlie Drinks" poster is the first in a series of educational materials that are being developed for doctors' offices designed to help start a dialogue on this important health issue. The poster is available online at AlcoholPolicyMD.com
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