Children’s movies filled with obesity-promoting behaviour

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Children’s movies may be fueling the obesity crisis as nearly all films aimed at youngsters feature unhealthy food, new research reveals.

Of the top-grossing children’s films released in recent years, 87 percent feature unhealthy food, while all include ‘obesity-promoting behavior’, a study found.

The 2015 ‘SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water’ features several scenes in the American-style restaurant ‘Krusty Krab’, with overweight diners feasting on burgers, causing their chairs to collapse beneath them.

In the 2015 Pixar movie ‘Inside Out’, a father is trying to feed a toddler broccoli for the first time, which she knocks off the table. When he threatens her with no dessert, she throws a tantrum.

Researchers from Duke University wrote: ‘[children] may learn from movie characters and imitate the eating behaviors they see on-screen if they see the characters as representations of themselves’. 

Some 32 percent of children aged between two and 19 years old in the US are overweight, while 17 percent are obese.

Youngsters who carry too much weight are more likely to be obese in later life, putting them at risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers.

Children's movies may be fueling the obesity crisis as nearly all films aimed at youngsters feature unhealthy food, according to Duke University scientists (stock)

Children's movies may be fueling the obesity crisis as nearly all films aimed at youngsters feature unhealthy food, according to Duke University scientists (stock)

Children’s movies may be fueling the obesity crisis as nearly all films aimed at youngsters feature unhealthy food, according to Duke University scientists (stock)

The 2015 'SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water' features several scenes in the American-style restaurant 'Krusty Krab', with diners feasting on burgers

The 2015 'SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water' features several scenes in the American-style restaurant 'Krusty Krab', with diners feasting on burgers

The 2015 ‘SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water’ features several scenes in the American-style restaurant ‘Krusty Krab’, with diners feasting on burgers

In the 2015 Pixar movie 'Inside Out', a father tries to feed a toddler broccoli for the first time, which she knocks off the table. When he threatens her with no dessert, she throws a tantrum

In the 2015 Pixar movie 'Inside Out', a father tries to feed a toddler broccoli for the first time, which she knocks off the table. When he threatens her with no dessert, she throws a tantrum

In the 2015 Pixar movie ‘Inside Out’, a father tries to feed a toddler broccoli for the first time, which she knocks off the table. When he threatens her with no dessert, she throws a tantrum

WHAT CHILDREN’S MOVIES DID THE STUDY FIND PROMOTE UNHEALTHY BEHAVIOR? 

The researchers also identified the following films as featuring ‘obesity-promoting behavior’:  

In the 2013 sequel to Monsters Inc ‘Monsters University’, characters say looking good is the only reason for working out.

The 2013 animated caveman film ‘The Croods’ shows an overweight man being exasperated after running, along with the quotation ‘food fixes everything’.

A character named Greedy in the 2013 movie ‘The Smurfs 2’ is accused of eating a missing piece of cake before being found with icing smeared over his face. 

The animated 2014 fantasy-action film ‘How to Train Your Dragon 2’ features frequent references to larger men and dragons being lethargic and unskilled. 

How the research was carried out 

The researchers analyzed 114 children aged between nine and 11 years old.

The study’s participants were asked to select films from a list of 40 movies they had seen all the way through.

The included movies were the top grossing G and PG-rated films between 2012 and 2015. 

Of the 40 movies, 31 had been watched all the way through by at least 20 percent of the participants and were investigated further. 

Each film was broken into 10-minute segments, which were examined for references to obesity and food. 

All children’s movies feature ‘obesity-promoting behavior’ 

Results reveal all major children movies feature at least one reference to ‘obesity-promoting behavior’.

Some 87 percent include unhealthy food, 71 percent feature oversized portions, 61 percent reference sugar-sweetened drinks and 29 percent negatively portray exercise.

In the 2014 Pixar animated musical comedy ‘Rio 2’, which follows the adventures of a parrot family in the Amazonian rainforest, an overweight child is shown squirting whipped cream on pancakes, the researchers reference. 

While in the 2012 cartoon ‘Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax’, a chubby bear is seen eating sticks of butter out of the fridge.

The researchers also note unhealthy food, such as ice cream, often appears in children’s movies when a character needs comforting or wants to celebrate.   

They wrote: ‘[children] may learn from movie characters and imitate the eating behaviors they see on-screen if they see the characters as representations of themselves’.

In the 2012 cartoon 'Dr. Seuss' The Lorax', an overweight bear is seen eating sticks of butter

In the 2012 cartoon 'Dr. Seuss' The Lorax', an overweight bear is seen eating sticks of butter

In the 2012 cartoon ‘Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax’, an overweight bear is seen eating sticks of butter

Overweight Spongebob character Patrick is portrayed as being lazy and unintelligent 

Overweight Spongebob character Patrick is portrayed as being lazy and unintelligent 

Overweight Spongebob character Patrick is portrayed as being lazy and unintelligent 

Films aimed at youngsters promote an obesity stigma 

Results also reveal children’s movies often negatively portray obesity, which could add to the stigma of carrying too much weight and promote poor self-esteem.

The researchers reference the 2015 SpongeBob movie, where the character Patrick, a starfish, appears to be obese, as well as being lazy and unintelligent.

Another scene from the same film shows ‘attractive fish’ ‘staring lovingly into each other’s eyes while splitting a burger’, the researchers wrote.

In the background, an ‘unattractive’ fish with a large belly is sitting alone. As he goes to take a bite of his burger, his chair breaks beneath him.   

The researchers also reference the 2015 non-animated film Cinderella, which features an overweight woman running a bakery who causes people to collapse from the smell when she removes her shoes. 

They note such movies rarely reference the health consequences of eating too much or being obese.  

The findings were published in the journal Pediatrics.  

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