(HealthDay) – If there was an Oscar for “Most Unhealthy Food in a Leading Role” many of America’s most popular films would be serious contenders.
This is the conclusion of a new review of the food content in 250 of the highest-grossing US films. Most of the time, the fictional foods were so bad that they wouldn’t limit actual dietary recommendations, the study authors said.
“The overall diet shown in the movies would not meet federal guidelines for healthy eating – not enough fiber, too much saturated fat and sodium, and … more sugar and three times more alcohol than the average American consumes,” said study director Bradley Turnwald .
And the effects are great, he said.
“They cement the norm that unhealthy foods are prevalent and cherished in our culture and consumed by famous actresses, role models, and even superheroes,” said Turnwald, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at Stanford University in Stanford, California.
He noted that other studies have linked viewing alcohol in films to previous binge drinking in teenagers. And seeing unhealthy snacks makes kids three times more likely to choose the same snack right after the movie, the researchers said.
According to Turnwald, food and alcohol content advertising and commercial entertainment guidelines are more lax in the US than elsewhere because of the protection provided by the First Amendment.
“The producers can essentially show what they want regardless of the audience,” he said.
To get an overview of what the producers actually show, Turnwald’s team analyzed the most successful US films released between 1994 and 2018. Domestic box offices were taken from the Internet Movie Database.
Two researchers screened each film in full, recording the contents of food and drink according to the categories established by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Film drinks were divided into alcohol, water, dairy products, coffee / tea, sweetened drinks, 100% juice, diet drinks, baby food and breast milk. The food was divided into 11 categories: dairy products, cereals, protein, fruit, vegetables, snacks / sweets, mixed dishes, fats / oils, spices / sauces, sugar or protein and nutrient powder.
The result: 40% of the movie drinks were alcoholic, and snacks or sweets made up almost a quarter of the food.
Almost 94% of the films showed medium or high sugar content. Almost as many (93%) had medium or high levels of fat, and 85% had medium or high levels of saturated fat. Medium or high salt (sodium) levels were found in about half of the films.
The report was published online November 23rd in JAMA Internal Medicine.
As a result, the films fell short of national dietary guidelines for saturated fat, salt, and fiber. And the total amount of sugar and alcohol shown was higher than actual Americans actually consume, investigators found.
“These results offer film producers an opportunity to better consider the types of foods and beverages they portray in films,” Turnwald said. “It’s about knowing that what is on screen has the potential to affect tens of millions of viewers, especially children, and to put more effort into portraying healthier options than the status quo.”
That thought was endorsed by Samantha Heller, a registered dietitian and senior clinical nutritionist at NYU Langone Health in New York City.
The danger, Heller said, is that “the public feels that if someone succeeds and copies this behavior, they magically become more of the celebrity they admire. Of course, this is not true and celebrities are not affiliates of the Health professions. “
Heller acknowledged that food choices in films are influenced by history and dictated by a complex calculation based on character, culture, location and era. Still, “influencers should try to be role models for healthy behavior,” she said.
“As parents, caregivers and educators, we can adopt healthy eating habits and make sure our families understand the importance of healthy eating,” added Heller. “That way, unhealthy behaviors that are portrayed in movies can be seen as part of the story rather than behavior that we should be emulating.”
Children’s films send mixed messages about eating habits and obesity
There is more about healthy eating in the USDA.
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