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There is an uncomfortable truth about kids' movies. For all their shiny cartoon cuteness, catchy tunes and lovable characters, they are sending mixed messages to the very youngsters they seek to entertain, say researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Would you allow your child to tease someone with names like "fatty ratty," or make fun of a chum with names like "fat butt," or comment on their "ridiculous belly"?
Probably not, but according to the dialogue of many movies - these comments come from Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel and Kung Fu Panda - this way of communicating is perfectly acceptable.
It seems that political correctness has not trickled down to the cartoon kingdom. Insults, violence and unhealthy choices abound in the world of bright colors and squeaky voices. But researchers have shown that even live action films are guilty of PC indiscretions.
Dr. Eliana M. Perrin, associate professor of pediatrics in the University of North Carolina (UNC) School of Medicine and corresponding author of the study, which is published in the journal Obesity, examined the world of popular kids' movies released in the US between 2006 and 2010.
For the study, Dr. Perrin and colleagues examined 20 top grossing G- and PG-rated films, selecting four from each year studied. They analyzed segments from each movie, looking for messages that relate to lifestyle options, particularly those concerning obesity prevention information and the prevalence of weight stigma.
"These children's movies offer a discordant presentation about food, exercise and weight status, glamorizing unhealthy eating and sedentary behavior yet condemning obesity itself."
The American Academy of Pediatrics' Recommendations for Prevention of Childhood Obesity states that today's children have a shorter life expectancy than their parents, thanks to the threat of obesity.
The abundance of high-fat, high-sugar snacks, the popularity of sugary drinks, coupled with indulgent portion sizes and the favoring of fast foods over family meals can make the avoidance of obesity more of a challenge for younger people.
And when these unhealthy choices are reflected in the films kids watch, there is a danger that the behavior will be reinforced as being normal.
Dr. Perrin and her team found that "unhealthy" movie segments outnumbered "healthy" ones by 2:1 and that the majority of films (70%) included content that was classed as stigmatizing weight.
And that was not the worst of it. The study shows unhealthy eating behaviors were effectively endorsed in many movies, with the researchers finding food depicted in exaggerated portion sizes in 26% of the movies, characters feasting on unhealthy snacks in 51% or drinking sugar-sweetened beverages in 19%.
Healthy behavior was also underrepresented in the movies - 40% of the films showed characters watching television, 35% showed kids using computers and 20% showed characters playing video games.
The study concludes:
"These popular children's movies had significant 'obesogenic' content, and most contained weight-based stigma. They present a mixed message to children: promoting unhealthy behaviors while stigmatizing the behaviors' possible effects."
Recent research has shown that kids who have a television in their bedroom are at a significantly higher risk of obesity and that obese children could have a tough time at school. Perhaps it is time to reconsider what we call "entertainment."
Written by Belinda Weber
Copyright: Medical News Today
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Movies for kids send mixed messages about eating habits and obesity, University of North Carolina press release. Accessed 11 December 2013.
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Weber, Belinda. "Kids' movies guilty of mixed messages about eating habits." Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 14 Dec. 2013. Web.
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