YouTube music videos 'could pose health risk' to teens

Evidence suggests teens exposed to depictions of alcohol and tobacco are more likely to start drinking or smoking

YouTube music videos with high levels of tobacco and alcohol images could pose a health risk to teenagers, researchers have warned.

A study found British teenagers are exposed to high levels of images featuring alcohol and tobacco, with girls aged 13 to 15 having the highest exposure.

Evidence suggests teens exposed to depictions of alcohol and tobacco in films are more likely to start drinking or smoking. 

Research from the University of Nottingham, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, analysed 32 of the most popular music in the UK during a 12-week period.

They counted the number of impressions - images, depictions, lyrics - of alcohol and tobacco content in 10-second intervals.

The researchers calculated the videos showed a total of 1,006 million impressions of alcohol and 203 million of tobacco.

Most of the content was delivered to 25-34 year olds, but individual exposure was almost four times higher among teens.

Teens aged 13 to 15 received an average of 11.48 alcohol impressions, while those aged 16 to 18 received 10.5 Adults received 2.85.

Levels of exposure were also around 65 per cent higher among girls.

"Trumpets" by Jason Derulo and "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke had the highest number of tobacco impressions, while "Timber" by Pitbull and "Drunk in Love" by Beyoncé had the most alcohol content. 

"If these levels of exposure were typical, then in 1 year, music videos would be expected to deliver over 4 billion impressions of alcohol, and nearly 1 billion of tobacco, in Britain alone," the researchers write.

"Further, the number of impressions has been calculated on the basis of one viewing only; however, many of the videos had been watched multiple times, so this number is likely to be much bigger."

In the UK, a ban on paid-for placement of branded tobacco products has been in force since 2002 and alcohol promotion is regulated by the Advertising Standards Agency. However, no such regulations apply to digital music videos. 

The researchers suggest music videos pose a "significant health hazard that requires approrpriate regulatory control".

"Owing to the obvious health implications for adolescents, we suggest that overly positive portrayals of both alcohol and tobacco in music videos should be included in both the drug misuse and dangerous behaviour presented as safe rating categories."

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