Kids Movies Send Mixed Messages About Nutrition, Obesity

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—About 70% of popular children’s movies include weight-related stigmatizing content, but encourage exaggerated portion sizes, unhealthy food and drinks and behaviors not supportive of health, like watching TV and playing video games, according to a new study published in the journal Obesity.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill analyzed the top-grossing G- and PG-rated movies from 2006-2010, including films like "Kung Fu Panda," "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel" and "Shrek the Third." Four movies per year were included, for a total of 20 movies. 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% of the movie segments with food depicted exaggerated portion size, 51% depicted unhealthy snacks and 19% depicted sugar-sweetened beverages.

Movie segments rated as "unhealthy" by the researchers outnumbered those rated as "healthy" by 2:1, and most of the movies (70%) included weight-related stigmatizing content.

"These children’s movies offer a discordant presentation about food, exercise and weight status, glamorizing unhealthy eating and sedentary behavior yet condemning obesity itself," said Eliana M. Perrin, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of pediatrics in the UNC School of Medicine and corresponding author of the study.

With now 5% of children in the United States considered obese, researchers are considering all possible influences that may affect children’s food and beverage choices. In fact, in a recent study, researchers chided superstar athletes endorsing unhealthy foods and beverages. Among the top athletes, LeBron James, Serena Williams and Peyton Manning were considered the highest contributors to the marketing of unhealthy foods among the most influential athletes in the world. Endorsements included Pepsi-Cola (Manning), McDonald’s (James) and Oreo cookies (Williams).

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