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Alcohol in films prompts children to drink

21st February 2012

New research has linked alcohol-related scenes in movies with teen drinking, sparking calls for Hollywood to reconsider its approach to the topic.

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A study carried out by researchers from a number of US universities polled 6,500 children aged 10-14, to ask them about their drinking habits over a two-year period.

They were looking for evidence of exposure to drinking scenes in movies, of any pre-existing drinking culture in their families, and for ownership of any alcohol-branded merchandise.

Questions were also included that would yield data about the children's social group, peer behaviour and personality traits.

During the study period, the proportion of children who drank rose from 11% to 25%, while the proportion of children involved in drinking binges rose from 4% to 13%, according to the research, which was published in the British Medical Journal Open.

The researchers found by the end of the study that there was a correlation between exposure to movie drinking scenes and the likelihood that a child would begin drinking, and progress to binge-drinking.

Peer drinking, alcohol-branded merchandise, age and rebelliousness were also associated with both alcohol onset and progression to binge drinking.

The teenagers who had seen the most films featuring alcohol were twice as likely to start consuming alcohol as those who watched the least, according to researchers, who conducted telephone interviews with the children regularly over the two-year study period.

The children were asked whether they took part in binge drinking, what films they had seen, whether they drank themselves, and whether their parents knew if they drank or not.

One of the most powerful factors predicting whether a child would start drinking, but also whether or not they would progress to binge drinking, was exposure to drinking scenes in movies.

They concluded that parents should monitor the films their children were watching, and called on Hollywood to start phasing out drinking in movies, as they already have done with cigarette smoking.

They said US movies were also likely to spread risky drinking behaviour around the world, much in the manner of the flu virus.

Only intense peer pressure among older children was found to have a stronger correlation with first starting to drink than movie exposure.

Smoking scenes are no longer as prominent in Hollywood movies as they once were.

For the purposes of the study, 50 movies were randomly selected from the top 100 box office hits of the past five years, and children were asked which of them they had seen.

They were also asked which of 32 films grossing more than US$15 million in the first quarter of 2003 they had seen, so as to include films released in the year of the first survey.

Trained coders were used to measure the number of seconds of on-screen alcohol use, including product placement, in each of the total 532 films.

They found that participants were exposed to an average 4.5 hours of on-screen alcohol use. Some teenagers had seen more than eight hours, however.

About 10% of study subjects said they owned branded merchandise bearing the name of an alcoholic drink, while 23% said their parents drank at least once a week at home.

Availability of alcohol to teenagers at home was found in 29% of cases.

 

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