A new study has suggested that many of the most popular children's movies send mixed messages about weight, eating habits and obesity, with references to dieting and "fat" body parts shown alongside characters eating unhealthy foods and partaking in sedentary activities.
A panda that aspires to be a martial arts master is told he'll never make it because of his "fat butt," "flabby arms" and "ridiculous belly." A chipmunk is called "fatty ratty." A donkey is called a "bloated roadside pinata" and told "you really should think about going on a diet."
"These children's movies offer a discordant presentation about food, exercise and weight status, glamorizing unhealthy eating and sedentary behavior yet condemning obesity itself," Eliana M. Perrin, MD, MPH, associate professor of pediatrics in the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, said.
In the study, Perrin and her co-authors analyzed the top-grossing G- and PG-rated movies from 2006-2010. Four movies per year were included, for a total of 20 movies.
Segments from each movie were assessed for the prevalence of key nutrition and physical behaviors corresponding to the American Academy of Pediatrics' obesity prevention recommendations for families, prevalence of weight stigma, assessment of the segment as healthy, unhealthy or neutral, and free-text interpretations.
With regard to eating behaviors, the researchers found that 26 percent of the movie segments with food depicted exaggerated portion size, 51 percent depicted unhealthy snacks and 19 percent depicted sugar-sweetened beverages.
With regard to depiction of behaviors, 40 percent of movies showed characters watching television, 35 percent showed characters using a computer and 20 percent showed characters playing video games.
Movie segments rated as "unhealthy" by the researchers outnumbered those rated as "healthy" by 2:1, and most of the movies (70 percent) included weight-related stigmatizing content.
The study is published in the journal Obesity....