A recent study looks at how the movie industry influences what we eat and how, in turn, Americans’ dietary habits have influenced cinematographers over the past decades.
Stanford researchers studied the 250 top-grossing Hollywood movies released between 1994 and 2018, including “Titanic”, “Avatar”, and “Black Panther”. They’ve found that most of them depict an unhealthy diet, which is unsurprising because cinematic art reflects the culture.
It wasn’t the researchers’ goal to scare the viewers or make them stop watching their favorite movies, but to encourage people to be more conscious about their food choices.
“Movies show unhealthy foods as being stereotypical, which Americans then see, reinforcing what is normative. You get this cycle that just spins round and round,” said study lead author Bradley Turnwald.
Here are some of the things researchers discovered:
- Overall, diets in most of the movies failed to meet the federal recommendations for saturated fat, fiber, and sodium. At the same time, there were a lot of alcoholic beverages and sugary foods depicted. Movie nutrition scores didn’t improve over the past 25 years.
- The foods that showed up onscreen most often — candies, processed salty snacks, baked goods, etc.
- Fruits were the second-most common type of food. Authors say this matter needs further research because fruits are often a scene prop in a grocery store or dining room.
- Water appeared on-screen only slightly more than sodas and other sweetened beverages.
- About 40% of beverages were alcoholic; even among the G-rated movies (those with no age restrictions), almost 20% of drinks were alcoholic.
- Despite the tendency towards product placement and advertising in movies, only about 11% of food was branded.
“The foods depicted in popular movies send a clear message – not only about what is common to eat but also about what foods are appealing or cool to eat. If our favorite actors and superheroes aren’t eating salads, why should we?” says Alia Crum, assistant professor of psychology and senior author on the study.
Also, Crum believes “there is a great opportunity here for movie producers and actors to be empowered by these findings – to be more mindful of and take responsibility for the foods they portray on their screens for millions of people to see.”