February 19, 2008 / 7:15 PM / 12 years ago

Teens who watch wrestling take more health risks

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Teenage fans of TV wrestling are more likely than their peers to be aggressive or take chances with their health, a study suggests.

Researchers found that among 2,300 16- to 20-year-old Americans, those who watched professional wrestling were more likely to be violent, smoke or have unprotected sex — and the more they watched TV wrestling, the greater their odds of taking such risks.

The findings, reported in the Southern Medical Journal, do not prove that watching wrestling alters young people’s behavior. “It may be the case that kids who have a personality that leads them to be aggressive also gravitate to watching wrestling on TV,” noted Dr. Mark Wolfson, one of the researchers on the study and an associate professor at Wake-Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

However, he told Reuters Health, it is “definitely possible” that TV wrestling affects teenagers’ behavior. In an earlier study, Wolfson and his colleagues found that teenage girls who watched wrestling were more likely to get into fights or carry a weapon at a later point in adolescence.

In general, researchers believe that children can become desensitized by violence in movies, TV and video games — particularly when those portrayals downplay the consequences of violence. A steady dose of media violence may also influence young people’s perceptions, priming them to take other people’s words and actions as hostile and to react aggressively.

Wolfson and his colleagues focused on professional wrestling, in part, because of its pervasive themes — including extreme violence with no apparent consequences and a tendency for the “bad guy” to win.

The programs also frequently feature racist stereotypes and degradation of women, the researchers note.

Of the teenagers in their survey, just over 22 percent of males said they had watched pro wrestling in the past two weeks, as did 14 percent of females. These teens were more likely to report several health risks, even when other factors in their environment — such as family income and whether they lived with both parents — were taken into account.

For each increase in the number of times teenagers watched pro wrestling, their odds of having hurt someone with a weapon increased 19 percent. The risk of having sex without birth control climbed 13 percent, and the odds of having fought with a girlfriend or boyfriend increased 16 percent.

While it’s not clear that watching TV wrestling contributed to these problems, the findings support the general idea that children’s exposure to media violence should be limited, according to the researchers.

Wolfson recommended that parents try to limit the amount of time their children devote to TV, movies and computers, as well as monitor what they are watching whenever possible. When children do see media violence, he noted, parents should try to discuss it with them “to clarify the family’s and the child’s values.”

SOURCE: Southern Medical Journal, February 2008.

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