The upshot: 40% of movie beverages were alcoholic, and snacks or sweets accounted for almost one-quarter of the food.
Nearly 94% of movies showed medium or high levels of sugar. Nearly as many (93%) included medium or high levels of fat, and 85% depicted medium or high levels of saturated fat. Medium or high levels of salt (sodium) were found in about half the movies.
The report was published online Nov. 23 in JAMA Internal Medicine.
So the movies fell short of national nutrition guidelines with respect to saturated fat, salt and fiber. And the amount of sugar and alcohol depicted was higher, overall, than real-life Americans actually consume, the investigators found.
“These findings present an opportunity for movie producers to be more mindful of the types of foods and beverages that they depict in movies,” Turnwald said. “It’s about knowing that what is on-screen has the potential to influence tens of millions of viewers, particularly children, and making more of an effort to depict healthier options as the status quo.”
That thought was seconded by Samantha Heller, a registered dietician and senior clinical nutritionist at NYU Langone Health in New York City.
The danger, Heller said, is that “the public feels that if someone is successful, and they copy that behavior, they magically become more like the celebrity they admire. Of course, this is not true and celebrities are not health professionals.”
Heller acknowledged that food choices in movies are influenced by the story 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, educators, we can adopt healthy dietary patterns and make sure our families understand the importance of healthy eating,” Heller added. “This way when unhealthy behaviors are depicted in movies, they can be viewed as part of the story and not behavior we should imitate.”
There’s more about healthy eating at the USDA.
SOURCES: Bradley Turnwald, PhD, postdoctoral research fellow, department of psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif.; Samantha Heller, MS, RD, CDN, senior clinical nutritionist, New York University Langone Health, New York City; JAMA Internal Medicine, Nov. 23, 2020, online