Children who watch a lot of movies featuring alcohol are twice as likely to start drinking compared to other kids who watch relatively few of such films, according to new research.
The study, published in the online journal BMJ Open, also reveals that these children are significantly more likely to progress to binge drinking.
For the study, more than 6,500 U.S. children between the ages of 10 and 14 were regularly quizzed over two years about their consumption of alcohol and potentially influential factors, such as movie viewing and marketing, home environment, peer behavior, and personal rebelliousness.
The kids were asked which randomly selected 50 movies they had seen from among the top 100 box office hits in each of the preceding five years, plus 32 films grossing more than $15 million in the first quarter of 2003, the year of the first survey.
The number of seconds of on-screen alcohol use, including product placement, in each of these 532 films was measured by trained coders. Given the movies they reported seeing, adolescents had typically seen an estimated 4.5 hours of alcohol use, while many had seen in excess of eight hours.
Around one in 10 of the kids (11 percent) said they owned branded merchandise, such as a Tshirt or hat, with the name of a beer, wine, or spirit on it. Nearly one in four (23 percent) said their parents drank alcohol at least once a week at home; 29 percent said they were able to get alcohol at home.
Over the course of the two years, the proportion of kids who started drinking alcohol more than doubled from 11 percent to 25 percent, while the number who began binge drinking — defined as five or more drinks in a row — tripled from 4 percent to 13 percent.
Parents who drank at home, and availability of alcohol in the home, was associated with taking up drinking, but not progressing to binge drinking. Exposure to alcohol in movies, owning branded merchandise, having friends who drank, and rebelliousness were associated with both.
After adjusting for factors likely to influence the results, kids who watched the most movies featuring alcohol were twice as likely to start drinking as those who watched the least — and they were 63 percent more likely to progress to binge drinking.
Alcohol in movies accounted for 28 percent of kids who started drinking between surveys and for 20 percent of those who moved on to binge drinking.
The association was seen not only with movie characters who drink, but also with alcohol product placement, suggested the researchers.
“Product placement in movies is forbidden for cigarettes in the USA, but is legal and commonplace for the alcohol industry, with half of Hollywood films containing at least one alcohol brand appearance, regardless of film rating,” they write.
They point out that the depiction of smoking in movies has fallen since it became a public health issue and the subject of industry monitoring, and suggest that alcohol in movies “may deserve similar emphasis.”
Source: BMJ-British Medical Journal