TV Sports Fans: Dying to Know the Score?

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Televised sports could be killing its key male demo...literally.

That's according to a study being presented to the annual meeting of the American College of Emergency Physicians in New Orleans.

The three-year study, conducted by Dr. David Jerard, associate professor of emergency

medicine at the University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore, found that "Male patient visits to the ED [Emergency Department] increase significantly in the hours immediately after the conclusion of sporting events broadcast on radio and TV."

How significantly? His emergency room saw 75% more male patients in the few hours following a Division I college football game broadcast on TV and radio than during a comparable nongame period, 50% more male patients immediately following a pro football game, and 30%-40% more following a baseball game.

"Men should not risk their health by putting off going to the emergency room because they want to see the final results of a football game," Jerrard says. "It could be the last game they ever see."

An earlier study had concluded that visits by men to emergency rooms dropped off during televised sports. which led Jerrard to suspect that they were putting off going to the hospital until the game was over. That led to the follow-up that appeared to confirm his suspicion, though he concedes other factors could be at play as well.

The study did not address what health conditions prompted the visits, so it could not draw any hard and fast conclusions about the disparity. For instance, whether it was that men were putting off going to the emergency room for pre-existing problems, or perhaps were prompted to some of those ailments by the games--stomach troubles from too many nachos, accidents following celebratory imbibing, or chest pains when their team loses after being up by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

Jerrard says he still thinks they were delaying to catch the end of the game, but concedes those others are possible explanations as well.

If Jerrard is right, should the networks, in an effort to publicize this troubling statistic, start airing PSA's during games advising viewers not to wait until the final gun so it won't be their final gun? Jerrard says he thinks the press the study is going to get--given the calls he has gotten--will serve as its own public service announcement.

The choice of getting to the hospital or getting in the last few minutes or innings is dependent on the sport.

The study looked at emergency room visits by 32,000 men--over 36 months--in the four hours or so after 796 broadcast games, including pro football and baseball and college football and basketball, then compared that with visits by men at comparable times on similar days without those games.

The mean number of patients immediately after the games was 10.2, vs. 6.2 on nongame days, with division I college football showing the largest disparity at 14.6 vs. 8.3. Pro football followed at 13.2 vs. 9.2, followed by Major League Baseball at 4.9 vs. 7.2.

College basketball fans were most likely to break away from the game to head to the hospital, with the differential 8.2 vs. 7.2.

Jerrard said he plans to do a follow-up study of the patients to see if there was a correlation between delaying care and the course of their illness. Translation: To what extent were people dying to find out who won the game.

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