NEW YORK, Apr 1 (Reuters) Middle-schoolers who sport alcohol-branded T-shirts and caps may start to drink sooner than their peers, according to a new study.
The findings, researchers point out, are similar to those of studies from the 1990s that linked cigarette-branded merchandise to a greater risk of adolescent smoking.
It's uncertain whether clothes or bags with beer logos encourage some kids to start drinking. But the study results are concerning enough that parents and schools should consider keeping the merchandise out of kids' hands, said lead author Dr. Auden McClure of Dartmouth Medical School in Lebanon, New Hampshire.
Besides possibly swaying a child's own attitude toward drinking, alcohol-branded gear turns kids into ''walking advertisements'' aimed at their peers, McClure noted in an interview.
She and her colleagues report their findings in the April issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
The study followed 2,400 middle school students, ages 10 to 14, who said during an initial survey that they had never used alcohol.
The students were surveyed again one to two years later, at which time they were asked if they owned any alcohol-branded merchandise and if they had ever tried drinking.
Overall, 14 per cent said they had some alcohol-related item, usually T-shirts, caps or jackets. These children were 50-per cent more likely than their peers to have started drinking -- even with factors such as school performance and friends' drinking habits taken into account.
The study has its limits, McClure said, and it cannot establish beer-bearing T-shirts as the cause of some kids' drinking.
But, she added, the findings ''are strong enough that we're saying, 'Let's be cautious.''' For parents, she and her colleagues add, that means keeping alcohol-branded gear out of the home, while schools can do their part by restricting students from wearing or carrying such items.
REUTERS PG RK0922