Fast Food in the Movies

Dartmouth research finds that teens and "tweens" see billions of impressions every year in popular films

American youth saw more than three billion advertising impressions each year about food and beverage brands from 1996 to 2005 in popular movies, according to research conducted by Dartmouth Medical School scientists and reported in the Journal of Public Health in November.

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The new study suggests that movies are a potent source of food and beverage advertising messages aimed at teens and "tweens."

"This study suggests that popular movies could be a potent source of food and beverage advertising to youth," according to Anna Adachi-Mejia, PhD, a member of the Cancer Control Research Program at Norris Cotton Cancer Center.

Positively Affecting Attitudes about Fast-Food

An impression measures one viewing or exposure to a food or beverage product by one individual. Dartmouth researchers measured impressions by dividing gross box office revenues by ticket prices to determine in-theater viewings, and then multiplied in-theater viewings for each movie by the total food and beverage appearances.

Television advertising to youth has been studied for years. Feature-length films, however, are a newer advertising vehicle to children and teens. An emerging area of research has found that the content of a movie can influence health-risk behaviors. Research shows varying effects on product placements on consumer behavior. Public health experts worry that more subtle non-traditional advertising to youth, such as movie product placements, positively affects a youth’s attitudes toward such placed products and increases purchasing requests for those products.

Obesity Concerns

"Given our concerns about the childhood obesity epidemic, especially in the context of cancer prevention," said Adachi-Mejia, "this study suggests that further studies are needed to examine the potential impact of advertising nutrient-poor food to children through movies, and possible ways to mitigate the impact."

The research study was funded by a grant from the National Cancer Institute at the National Institute of Health. The study, "Giving the wrong impression: food and beverage brand impressions delivered to youth through popular movies," was published by the Journal of Public Health. Authors included:

  • Monica Skatrud-Mickelson, Department of Pediatrics, Dartmouth Medical School
  • Anna Adachi-Mejia, Department of Pediatrics and The Dartmouth Institute, Dartmouth Medical School
  • Todd MacKenzie, Department of Community and Family Medicine, Dartmouth Medical School
  • Lisa Sutherland, Department of Pediatrics, Dartmouth Medical School

Both Dr. Adachi-Mejia and Dr. Sutherland are program members of Norris Cotton Cancer Center’s Cancer Control Research Program.

December 26, 2011