Kids' movies send mixed messages about obesity

Many children's movies nowadays both glamorize and condemn being fat, a new study reveals.

According to researchers, these mixed messages are being viewed and internalized by today's youth, which can either normalize or stigmatize being obese – and neither is a good strategy.

'Fat butt' and 'flabby arms'

Citing examples from popular movies like "Kung Fu Panda," "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel" and "Shrek the Third," the analysis found that phrases like "fat butt," "flabby arms" and "ridiculous belly" were used in the language describing certain characters.

"These children's movies offer a discordant presentation about food, exercise and weight status, glamorizing unhealthy eating and sedentary behavior yet condemning obesity itself," said Eliana M. Perrin, M.D., MPH, associate professor of pediatrics in the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and corresponding author of the study.

A total of 20 of the most popular children's movies from 2006 through 2010 were analyzed for the prevalence of nutrition and physical behaviors outlined by the American Academy of Pediatrics' obesity prevention recommendations. The movie segments were rated on how healthy, unhealthy or neutral they were according to these standards.

Inconsistent messages

The team found that "unhealthy" segments outnumbered "healthy" ones by 2:1, and about 70 percent of the movies included weight-related stigmatizing messages.

Additionally, 40 percent of movies showed characters watching television, 35 percent showed characters using a computer and 20 percent showed characters playing video games. Twenty-six percent of the movies with food depicted exaggerated portion sizes, 51 percent showed unhealthy snacks and 19 percent had sugar-sweetened beverages.

The main takeaway from the study, researchers said, is that most popular children's movies aren't being consistent in regards to messages about obesity or healthy eating habits.

"These popular children's movies had significant 'obesogenic' content, and most contained weight-based stigma," the study concluded. "They present a mixed message to children: promoting unhealthy behaviors while stigmatizing the behaviors' possible effects."

Results of the study can be found in the journal Obesity.

Source: University of North Carolina Health Care

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