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Movies Can Influence Drinking at Early Age

Parents Should Limit Movie Exposure, Researchers Say

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Updated January 16, 2006

Updated January 16, 2006
Watching movies in which drinking alcohol is depicted in a positive light can play a significant role in an adolescent's decision to begin drinking at an early age, according to research at Dartmouth Medical School.

The study was the first to measure the influence of alcohol use in movies. The Dartmouth researchers used data from 600 films and 5,000 students to see if movies featuring drinking alcohol predispose adolescents to experiment with alcohol at an early age.

Previous studies have found that drinking before the age of 14 is a risk factor in developing alcohol problems later in life.

"Each year that kids delay experimenting with alcohol can help them avoid some of the serious consequences that drinking at a young age can contribute to, including drinking and driving and alcohol dependence," said the lead author of the study Dr. James Sargent, professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth.

"This study is aimed at the prevention of early alcohol use and our hope is that parents of young children become more aware that drinking in films is common and that seeing these depictions can lead to early experimentation with drinking."

Sargent found in previous studies that images and scenarios depicted in movies are among the strongest influences on young children, rivalling several other factors such as drinking by parents and peers.

In his study, his research found alcohol use depicted in 92 percent of the films in a sample of 601 contemporary movies. Researchers found that alcohol was used in 52 percent of G-rated films, 89 percent for PG, 93 percent for PG-13 and 95 percent for R.

More than 5,000 students ages 10 to 14 years old in Vermont and New Hampshire schools were surveyed, to determine the amount of movies they watch and whether they had tried drinking before.

8 Hours of Drinking in Movies

The researchers followed up with the "never drinkers" two years after the initial assessment and found that kids with higher exposure to movie alcohol use at the initial assessment were more likely to start drinking during the follow up period.

High exposure to movies predicted future use of alcohol, the researchers concluded. They found that average child surveyed had been exposed to about eight hours of alcohol use by watching movies.

"If you think about how many 30 second beer commercials one can fit into eight hours, it's a staggering number -- over 1000," said Sargent.

Limit the 'Diet' of Movies

Sargent said in a news release that "the vast majority of movie scenarios depict alcohol in a positive light, showing people drinking at parties or bars, unwinding with a drink after work, or leading up to a romantic scene." He suggests that parents improve their children's health later in life by limiting their "diet" of movies that portray adult-oriented behavior.

"Parents shouldn't let their kids over eat and they shouldn't let their kids overindulge in movies," he said. "One movie per week for a child 10-14 years old should be sufficient, but it's clear from this research that kids are watching much more than that."

Source: The study was published in the January 2006 issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol. See news release: Early Drinking in Teens Linked to Alcohol Use in Movies.

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