Nutritional quality seen in movies gets 2 thumbs down

November 26, 2020
Miranda Hester

Ms. Hester is Content Specialist with Contemporary OB/GYN and Contemporary Pediatrics.

Diet is impacted by more than just what a child sees in the home. An investigation examines the dietary quality seen in popular movies.

When it comes to a child’s diet, there are many factors that can determine what it consists of and whether it’s healthful, such as what their peers are eating, diets in the household, and even pop culture. Advertising of foods deemed unhealthy have been restricted, particularly for children, in a number of countries, but depiction of food in movies is not regulated. An investigation in JAMA Internal Medicine looked at the nutrition shown in films and whether those food choices meet federal nutrition recommendations.1

Researchers looked at the foods and beverages that were found in the 250 top-grossing movies in the United States from 1994 to 2018. The United Kingdom’s traffic light guidelines were used to determine nutrition ratings of food and beverages. In the guidelines, foods that are high in fats, sugars, and salt are given a red label; foods with medium levels are given an amber label; and foods with low levels are given a green label. They then compared the nutrition content of a film to the US Food and Drug Administration’s recommended daily levels of nutritional intake as well as the actual consumption reported through the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2015-2016. They also looked at the number of branded versus nonbranded items and whether this changed over time.

In the 250 movies studied, there were 9198 foods and 5748 beverages. Snacks and sweets, 2173 items, and alcoholic beverages, 2303 items, were the most commonly seen food and beverages in the movies. Alcohol alone made up 18.1% of beverages seen in G-rated movies, 27.0% of beverages seen in PG-rated movies, 41.8% of drinks seen in PG-13 movies, and 49.1% of drinks seen in R-rated movies. They found that a majority of the films would fail the legal limits of advertising to children and adolescents in the United Kingdom, with 178 movies earning less healthy food ratings and 222 earning less healthy beverage ratings. When looking at foods, many movies showed medium to high levels of saturated fat (208 of 245 [84.9%]), total fat (228 of 245 [93.1%]), sugar (229 of 245 [93.5%]), and sodium (123 of 245 [50.2%]). Visible branding of foods and drinks were relatively rare with just 11.5% showing commercial logos, but those with visible branding scored lower on nutrition ratings than items with no branding. Unfortunately, the food and drink nutrition scores did not improve over time, nor did they improve in movies that were advertised to appeal to children.

Movies are a frequent source of entertainment, especially for children. However, this study indicates that many movies are illustrating unhealthy food consumption that doesn’t meet dietary recommendations. It also indicates that the regulation that restricts food advertising may need to be extended to depictions of nutritional consumption in entertainment.

Reference

1. Turnwald B, Handley-Miner I, Samuels N, Markus H, Crum A. Nutritional analysis of foods and beverages depicted in top-grossing US movies, 1994-2018. JAMA Intern Med. November 23, 2020. Epub ahead of print. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.5421