Movies Feed Kids Unhealthy Choices
< Feb. 17, 2010 > -- The concession stand isn't the only thing loaded with junk food at the movies. The films themselves are filled with images of candy, sugary drinks, and salty snack foods, as well as references to fast food, according to a new study.
Researchers watched the top 20 films at the box office in each year from 1996 to 2005, and noted brand-name references to food and beverage products, plus retail food establishments such as fast-food restaurants. The study appears online in the journal Pediatrics.
"We've had a long discussion about advertising to children, what's appropriate and not appropriate, but movies have fallen under the radar," says study author Lisa A. Sutherland. In fact, she says her group is the first to study the topic -- although there's been plenty of research into the roles of tobacco, alcohol and violence in movies.
Movie Images More Subtle Than Ads
PG-13 and R-rated movies were more likely to include the references, as were comedies, action films, and horror films. Of the 200 movies researchers studied, 69 percent featured at least one food, beverage, or retail establishment.
References to the products and restaurants are very subliminal, much more so than advertising on television, according to researchers.
Candy and salty snacks were the most common foods seen in the movies, while soft drinks made up three-quarters of mentioned beverages. Fast-food restaurants accounted for two-thirds of the retail establishment mentions.
McDonald's topped the references to food establishments, accounting for 13 percent of them, while Pepsi and Coca-Cola were the most frequently mentioned beverage companies.
Repetition a Concern Too
Another worrisome factor: Kids often don't just watch a film once. They often watch them over and over again, explains Sutherland. "They get hung on one DVD, and they watch it 100 times."
So parents need to understand that even when they limit their children's TV watching, advertising messages may sneak through if kids watch movies.
The solution? "Be aware of food advertising in movies and how it might affect your own behavior," advises Catherine Christie, chairwoman of the department of nutrition and dietetics at the University of North Florida. "Be careful how much high-calorie, low-nutrient food you and your children have access to and consume."
She adds that movies with food products in them could also serve as an opportunity for parents to help children learn to think critically about images they see.
For more information on health and wellness, please visit health information modules on this Web site.
Healthy Snacking for Children
Snacks can be part of a nutritious diet if they're planned for specific times so they don't spoil your child's appetite at mealtimes. Make snacks as healthy as possible, without depriving your child of occasional sweets or salty snacks -- especially at parties or other social events.
Examples of good snacks include:
Teach kids to limit soft drinks and foods like candy and desserts, and salty snacks such as potato chips and fries. But, in moderation, these snacks may have a place in the diet.
Make sure snacks are appropriate to your child's age. Preschoolers may choke on hard-to-chew foods like carrots and celery, whole grapes, hard cheese, raisins, nuts and seeds, and popcorn.
Always consult your physician for more information.
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