The Oscar-nominated Bridesmaids and other films featuring partying and drinking may be Hollywood money makers, but a new study suggests alcohol in movies is having a negative social impact: it's prompting young people to drink.
The study of more than 6,500 U.S. youth between ages 10 and 14 compared media and marketing to family factors that may influence drinking. It found study subjects who watched a lot of movies featuring alcohol were twice as likely to start drinking, compared with peers who watched relatively few such films.
The research, published Monday in the British Medical Journal, also found the teens influenced by alcohol in films were significantly more likely to progress to binge drinking.
"Underage drinking is prevalent and represents an important risk factor for risky sexual behaviour, injury and mortality during adolescence, and subsequent alcohol abuse and dependence," says the study by U.S. researchers that was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
It notes that alcohol use or brands are depicted in 80 to 90 per cent of movies, and drinking is mostly portrayed positively —for example, that drinking is glamorous or important to have a good time. As well, previous research on youth in the U.S. and Germany has also found an association between viewing alcohol use in movies and early onset of drinking.
Product placement in film also criticized
The young people in the BMJ-published study, undertaken in 2003, were regularly quizzed about their consumption of alcohol and potentially influential factors over two years. These factors included movie viewing and marketing, the home environment; peer behaviour and "personal rebelliousness."
Should Hollywood ban alcohol product placement? Take our survey.
The teens were asked which randomly selected 50 movies they had seen from among the top 100 U.S. box office hits in each of the preceding five years, plus 32 films grossing more than $15 million US in the first quarter of 2003.
The research was conducted years before the release of movies such as Bridesmaids, which has grossed more than $288 million worldwide since its 2011 release and is up for a couple of Academy Awards this Sunday in Los Angeles — a testament to the emphasis the film industry has placed on alcohol, including just showing products and their brand labels in movie scenes.
The study's findings have therefore prompted the researchers to suggest that Hollywood adopt the same restrictions for highlighting brand names of alcohol in movies as it does for tobacco.
"Product placement in movies is forbidden for cigarettes in the U.S.A., 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," James Sargent of the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth Medical School in Lebanon, N.H., and his colleagues wrote in the report.
The report also recommends some family interventions to reduce the risk of teen drinking, including that parents:
- Set limits on what films their children watch.
- Keeping home alcohol in a secure location.
- Not drink frequently themselves.