"Cheers" to USA Today

by Howard Fienberg
November 1998

We have long known that watching TV rots our kids' minds. Now it appears to drive them to drink as well. A widely reported Stanford University study recently found a correlation between 9th graders' drinking and their TV and music video watching.

"High school students who watch lots of television and music videos are more likely to start drinking alcohol than other youngsters while those who rent movies are at less risk," said the Associated Press on November 3. The San Francisco Chronicle ("From boob tube to demon rum" Nov 4), Reuters ("Music videos said to boost teen drinking" Nov 3), the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ("TV, teens, drinking" Nov 3), and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ("TV influences drinking habits of teens, study says" Nov 3) all chastised TV and music videos for their alluring portrayal of alcohol. It was "probably due to the influence of frequent media portrayals of drinking," according to Reuters. The Chronicle linked it to "the most attractive and most influential people" doing the "great majority of drinking on television."

Alone in this media happy hour, USA Today added a welcome note of sober skepticism ("Teen drinking linked to music videos, TV" Nov 3). The national daily quoted media scholar Charles Atkin of Michigan State University, who pointed out that "parents and peers... are known to exert a major influence" and the study "takes account of neither." USA Today also quoted ABC's Julie Hoover, who likened the conclusions to saying "gynecologists make women pregnant because... there are so many pregnant women in their offices."

STATS toasts USA Today's timely reminder that correlation does not imply causation. No word yet on whether children's viewing habits drive their parents to drink.

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