A study found teens who are highly exposed to YouTube music video content (images and lyrics) that features tobacco and alcohol have higher chances of developing smoking and drinking habits. Findings showed teens aged 13 to 15 years are at the highest risk. Among them, girls were more exposed than the boys.

The researchers analyzed two nationwide online surveys of adults and teens in Britain. There were 2,068 teenagers between the ages of 11 and 18 years old, and 2,232 adults aged 19 and above. These surveys included online viewing data for UK's top 32 music videos from top 40 chart songs from Nov. 3, 2013 to Jan. 19, 2014.

To get the estimated total "impressions" of smoking and drinking in the YouTube videos, the team watched each video in 10-second intervals. A tobacco or alcohol presence in each interval is counted as one "impression."

Between the videos' releases and the start of the survey, there were 1,006 million alcohol and 203 million tobacco impressions in total. On average, 13- to 15-year-olds got 11.48 tobacco impressions while 16- to 18-year-olds got 10.5. As for the adults, they got an average of 2.85 tobacco impressions. Tobacco impressions among girls was 65 percent higher, particularly among those aged 13 to 15 years.

As for alcohol, each teen got an average of 52.11 impressions while adults only got 14.13 impressions each. Exposure among girls surged to 70.68 especially among 13- to 15-year-olds.

The survey found Jason Derulo's "Trumpets" and Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" were among the top videos with the highest tobacco impressions. As for alcohol, Beyoncé's "Drunk in Love" and Pitbull's "Timber" rated the highest impressions.

"If these levels of exposure were typical, then in one year, music videos would be expected to deliver over four billion impressions of alcohol, and nearly one billion of tobacco, in Britain alone," the authors noted.

Child psychologist and Fundamentally Children founder Dr. Amanda Gummer said these images and lyrics carry negative influence on the youth. She reiterated that it is crucial for girls to have good role models to look up to.

Instead of regulating YouTube content, which is futile, making sure that teens (and even younger children) have regular offline activities is a better tactic. This way, the youth can find good, healthy, real-life models who can influence their life decisions. Gummer added that increasing children media literacy will also help them in distinguishing what they see online and what they see in real life. The contorted reality on screen such as stage makeup and photo editing could also have negative effects on children and teens.

The study was published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health on Jan. 14.

Photo: Esther Vargas | Flickr

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