Child movies send mixed messages about weight
There’s a scene in the movie “Kung Fu Panda” where the panda hopes to become a master of martial arts but is told he’ll never make it because of his “fat butt, flabby arms and ridiculous belly.” Children are greatly influenced by images portrayed in these movies and often take cues from these images. This can be troubling, a new study finds, when these images send mixed messages to kids, particularly around healthy eating and weight.
The research, published in the December issue of the journal Obesity, revealed that many popular children’s movies had content that both promoted obesity and also stigmatized it as well.
Study authors examined top-grossing G- and PG-rated movies over a four-year period between 2006 and 2010. Four movies per year were included for a total of 20 movies. Movie segments of 10 minutes each were assessed for the following:
- Having key nutrition and physical behaviors that matched obesity prevention recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics
- Any degree of weight stigma
- An assessment of the segment as healthy, unhealthy or neutral
- Language that could be interpreted as weight stigma
Researchers found that in terms of eating behaviors, 26 percent of the movie segments with food showed exaggerated portion size, 51 percent showed unhealthy snacks and 19 percent featured sugar-sweetened beverages.
Movie segments that researchers gave an “unhealthy” rating to outnumbered those rated as “healthy” by 2:1. Also, most of the movies, 70 percent included weight-related stigmatizing content.
What the research fails to mention is whether the viewing of these movies was supervised, says Dr. Rosalind Downing, pediatrician at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill. “We need to make sure we are not using our media as unsupervised time, and as a babysitting tool,” she says.
Supervision is important for these types of movies, says Dr. Downing, because they create an opportunity for parents to have important discussions. “We have to correct how kids are interpreting the images they’re viewing in these movies. I think the movies could be good tools, but parents need to be cautious about what their kids watch. To discourage obesity, someone should be correcting what a child is viewing,” she adds.
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