Feds Spend $212,549 to Study How Movies Affect Childhood Obesity, Bullying

By Melanie Arter | December 10, 2014 | 12:17pm EST

childhood obesity (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – The National Institutes of Health has awarded $212,549 in taxpayer dollars to the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill to study how movies influence childhood obesity.

“Children’s movies are an important source of cultural messages to children about healthy and unhealthy attitudes and behaviors,” the grant said.

The project involves developing “measurement tools to understand the basic processes behind movies’ and other cultural factors’ effects on such attitudes and behaviors, particularly those related to Obesity.”

The grant noted that children receive cultural messages about “appropriate eating, exercise, and attitudes” from a variety of sources, “including family, friends, schools, religious institutions, and electronic culture (television, movies and video games).”

“Children have access to many movies and the ability to view them over and over again, contributing to significant daily exposure, more for children from minority backgrounds,” it said. “These movies provide cues to normative behavior and experiences widely shared among similar-age children nationally and even worldwide.”

“Our team’s preliminary work has examined movies and found top-grossing G- and PG-rated movies depict unhealthy eating and sedentary activity as the norm, while simultaneously mocking overweight characters,” the grant said.

Professor Eliana Perrin, who works in the Department of Pediatrics at the UNC Chapel Hill School of Medicine, is the project leader for the grant. CNSNews.com asked Perrin how this is an effective use of taxpayer dollars.

In an emailed response, Perrin wrote: “To your question, any parent will tell you children today spend a lot of time in front of screens watching movies – and the images and messages they get from them help shape their beliefs and behavior.

“Our study focuses on two major problems facing today’s children – the alarming epidemic of childhood obesity and the prevalence of bullying.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has cited childhood obesity as a major contributor to rising health care costs.  One recent estimate puts the treatment costs of obesity at $190 billion annually,” she added.

“Our study shows children’s entertainment often presents sedentary activity, overeating, and eating unhealthy foods (the key factors contributing to obesity) in a positive light –and also presents bullying and teasing those who are overweight as acceptable and commonplace. Research has shown that bullying actually perpetuates obesity,” Perrin wrote.

“Right now, our health professionals and our schools are struggling to turn the tide on both of these costly trends. To the extent our efforts are being undercut by messages children receive from TV and movies, we need to understand how children take in these messages and change their beliefs as a result, if we want to reverse the trends and get the costs (and our children’s health) under control,” she wrote.

“Our study is designed to help sharpen strategies to prevent obesity and bullying by demonstrating how and to what degree children’s movies are reinforcing harmful behavior,” Perrin added.

The project started on Sept. 19, 2013 and will end on Aug. 31, 2015. Funding began on Sept. 1, 2014 and will continue until the project end date.

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