As winter break approaches for schoolchildren, movie-watching in theaters or snuggled together on the couch may be on the family calendar. But while ratings alert parents to violent or otherwise "adult" content, some more hidden messages within a movie could have an impact on a child's well-being.
A new study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill focused on messages about healthy eating and obesity in films. Researchers looked at 20 of the most popular children's movies released in the U.S. between 2006 and 2010 and found that a good number featured characters that overeat and under-exercise and/or stigmatization of overweight and obesity.
As described in a release:
Segments from each movie were assessed for the prevalence of key nutrition and physical behaviors corresponding to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ obesity prevention recommendations for families, prevalence of weight stigma, assessment of the segment as healthy, unhealthy or neutral, and free-text interpretations.
With regard to eating behaviors, the researchers found that 26 percent of the movie segments with food depicted exaggerated portion size, 51 percent depicted unhealthy snacks and 19 percent depicted sugar-sweetened beverages.
With regard to depiction of behaviors, 40 percent of movies showed characters watching television, 35 percent showed characters using a computer and 20 percent showed characters playing video games.
The authors conclude that these movies "present a mixed message to children: promoting unhealthy behaviors while stigmatizing the behaviors’ possible effects." The study (registration or purchase required) appears in the journal Obesity.
Previously: Sugar intake, diabetes and kids: Q&A with a pediatric obesity expert, Talking to kids about junk food ads and Health experts to Nickelodeon: Please stop promoting unhealthy food to our kids