TV ads during sports depict unsafe behavior and violence

12/03/04

HERSHEY, PA–Children watching commercials aired during televised sports events may frequently be exposed to violent and unsafe behavior, a study by a Penn State Children's Hospital physician suggests.

"Our study found that nearly one in five commercials during televised major sporting events depict unsafe or violent behavior," said Robert F. Tamburro, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics, Penn State Children's Hospital, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. "Studies report that children commonly watch televised sports, and thus, the commercial content of these programs should be scrutinized since data suggests that media exposure increases children's risk-taking behavior."

The study titled, "Unsafe and Violent Behavior in Commercials Aired During Televised Major Sporting Events," appears in the December issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Previous studies have shown that violence is often depicted in commercials aired during Major League Baseball, but Tamburro's study is the first to show that unsafe behaviors, such as riding a bicycle without a helmet, are depicted even more frequently.

The study team analyzed 1,185 commercials aired between Sept. 1, 2001, and Sept. 1, 2002, during the highest-rated televised sporting events. Sporting events included the Winter Olympics, National Football League playoff and regular season events, the National Basketball Association Western Conference Final Game, and the Major League Baseball World Series. The team reviewed only those commercials aired before 9 p.m., when children were more likely to be watching television.

Unsafe behavior was defined as any action that could have harmful consequences or that contradicted the injury prevention recommendations of national safety advocacy organizations. Violence was defined as any intentional physical contact by an aggressor that had the potential to include injury or harm, or the legitimate threat of such action.

Fourteen percent of the commercials depicted unsafe behavior and 6 percent depicted violence. Of the 322 commercial breaks reviewed in the study, 158, or 49 percent, contained at least one commercial that showed unsafe behavior or violence. Forty-eight percent of commercials that contained violence were for movies and an additional 38 percent were for television programs. Commercials for automobiles contained the highest number of depictions of unsafe behaviors.

"The Super Bowl had the highest proportion of commercials that contained unsafe or violent behaviors and the Masters Gold Tournament had no violent commercials at all and had only one commercial, which was aired three times, that included unsafe behavior," Tamburro said.

Some reports estimate that American children view 360,000 commercials before graduating from high school. Although rating systems are in place for television programs and movies to warn parents about adult content and violence, no such rating or preview systems are in place to warn parents about commercials. Moreover, it is plausible that parents might consider sporting events aired before 9 p.m. to be safe and free of such content.

"Our findings suggest that children's exposure to televised sports should be limited and directly supervised by parents, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics for television viewing in general," Tamburro said. "The movie and television industries should be encouraged to adopt models for commercial sponsorship of major sporting events that include little or no unsafe or violent content."

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