With all the violence on TV these days, parents might think their kids are safer watching sports broadcasts. But they may be overlooking ads shown during those games.

New research shows violence was shown in 6 percent of commercials aired during the most-watched TV sporting events in a 12-month period beginning September 2001. Unsafe behavior was depicted in 14 percent of those ads.

Of the 322 commercial breaks, nearly half had at least one commercial showing unsafe behavior or violence.

That’s enough to get a thumbs-down review from Robert Tamburro, MD, of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. Tamburro and colleagues reviewed more than 1,100 commercials for their study, which appears in the December issue of Pediatrics.

The ads aired during the 50 highest-rated sporting events for that year. Keeping kids’ bedtimes in mind, the researchers focused on games or ads shown before 9 p.m.

Coverage included the Winter Olympics, National Football League games, Major League Baseball World Series and playoff games, the Super Bowl, and the NCAA Basketball Championship game. NASCAR’s Daytona 500 race and the final round of the Masters Golf Championship were also included.

The Super Bowl had the highest proportion of commercials showing violent or unsafe behavior. The tamest commercials appeared during a much more sedate competition — the final round Masters Golf Championship, which had no violent commercials whatsoever.

Many of the violent ads came straight from movies and TV. Commercials for movies accounted for almost half of all violent ads, while 38 percent promoted TV shows. TV has long been seen as a possible influence on children’s minds and behavior, but most studies have focused on TV shows, not commercials.

TV ads aren’t rated, so how should parents respond? Becoming aware of content is one step. Parents should limit and supervise what their children watch — including the ads — and may also consider installing commercial-skipping devices, say the researchers.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD

SOURCES: Tamburro, R., Pediatrics, December 2004; vol 114: pp e694-e698. News release, American Academy of Pediatrics.