Research published in the Alcohol and Alcoholism journal finds that regulation lacks the adequate safeguards to protect UK children from online alcohol marketing.

The enormous growth of social media in recent years has inevitably drawn alcohol marketing, but the online world lacks the rules established in older mediums to protect kids, UK researchers say.

Exposure to alcohol marketing is one of the factors that might lead to underage drinking, which in turn raises the likelihood of risky behaviours, the study’s authors warn.

“A very high proportion of young people use social media websites, in particular Facebook and YouTube. More effective measures are needed to protect children from alcohol marketing on these websites,” said lead author Eleanor Winpenny.

“This study demonstrates that the current regulation is not adequate to protect children from alcohol marketing online,” said Winpenny, an analyst with RAND Europe, who is based in Cambridge, UK.

“RAND Europe conducted this research as part of a wider study funded by the Executive Agency for Health and Consumers, under the EU Health Programme, which looked at the exposure of young people to alcohol marketing on television and online,” Winpenny said.

Winpenny and her colleagues analysed the proportion of young Internet users who used Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in the UK, from December 2010 to May 2011. They broke data down into two age groups, 6 to 14 years and 15 to 24 years. They also looked at Internet site use by gender.

The results were published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism.

This article was originally published by Reuters as “Online alcohol marketing easily accessed by kids” on 19 December 2013.