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Should TV Ads on Sports Shows Carry a 'PG' Rating?

Study finds many commercials are laced with violence

MONDAY, Dec. 6, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- One of every five commercials broadcast during major sporting events shows unsafe or violent behavior that might be inappropriate for children, a new study says.

"Our findings suggest that children's exposure to televised sports should be limited and supervised directly by parents, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics," said a report in the December issue of the academy's journal, Pediatrics.

The study was started by Dr. Robert Tamburro, an associate professor of pediatrics at Penn State's Milton Hershey School of Medicine, because of what he called "a very personal experience" -- watching the 2001 World Series.

Tamburro said he was struck by the high rate of violent or unsafe behavior in the commercials shown during the series. So he enlisted a group of colleagues who dutifully monitored 1,185 commercials aired during the 50 most-viewed sporting events for one year.

They looked for unsafe behavior, defined as "any action that could have harmful consequences or that contravened the injury-prevention recommendations of national organizations," and for "any intentional physical contact by an aggressor that had the potential to inflict injury or harm or the legitimate threat of such action."

Some of the more troubling examples depicted someone being shot or physically assaulted, the researchers said.

They found 66 commercials that met that definition of violence and 165 that displayed unsafe behavior. Such commercials were difficult to avoid; 158 of the 322 ads during the sporting events had at least one objectionable episode, the researchers said.

The Super Bowl had the highest percentage of those commercials, with 33 percent of them showing unsafe behavior and 28 percent depicting violence. College football bowl games came in a distant second, with 17 percent of the commercials showing unsafe behavior and 5 percent portraying violence.

Last on the list was the final round of the Masters Golf Championship, hardly must-see TV for children. It featured just one ad, shown three times, picturing a child riding a bicycle without a helmet.

The worst offenders were commercials for entertainment, either movies or television shows. Nearly two-thirds of the movie spots featured violence, as did 22 percent of ads for TV shows other than sporting events, the researchers found.

The goal of the study was just to make a count, not to advocate specific action by parents or television networks, Tamburro said. But, he added, the study "might heighten awareness by parents that sporting-event broadcasts have commercials that they may or may not want their children to see."

The journal report noted the Federal Trade Commission has limited the amount of commercial time in programs for children to 10.5 minutes per hour on weekends and less than 12 minutes an hour on weekdays. And the entertainment industry has taken steps to limit children's exposure to ads featuring violence.

"Unfortunately, these actions do not seem to apply to the commercials that are aired during televised sporting events," the report said.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers a Smart Guide to Kid's TV.

SOURCES: Robert Tamburro, M.D., associate professor, pediatrics, Penn State University's Milton Hershey School of Medicine, Hershey, Pa.; December 2004 Pediatrics
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