Alcohol depiction in movies directly influences actual alcohol intake and binge drinking in teens, a new study reveals.
Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, recently published the report investigating alcohol consumption in movies and adolescent binge drinking in six European countries, discovering a significant correlation between movie alcohol use exposure and lifetime binge drinking.
European adolescents who were exposed to the most images of alcohol through popular movies were most likely to have engaged in at least one episode of binge drinking – consuming more than five drinks on one occasion.
"Our findings raise concern about the role popular movies may play in Europe and beyond in the early experimentation patterns of alcohol consumption in adolescents," the authors shared. "These patterns have the potential to have a detrimental influence on individual health and future drinking trajectories and to be costly at a societal level."
Six research centers in Germany, Iceland, Italy, Poland, Netherlands, and Scotland conducted the study, surveying 16,551 students in total from 114 state-funded public schools. The participants were between the ages of 10 to 19.
Students in each country received a random selection of 50 movies from a country-specific list of 250 box-office hits, and were asked to indicate how often they had seen each movie. Researchers reviewed each of the movies and counted the number of times alcohol appeared on the screen, i.e. whenever a major or minor character handled or used alcohol in a scene or when alcohol use was shown in the background. Eighty-six percent of the total 655 movies included at least one alcohol scene.
Using their tallies, the total number of drinking scenes viewed by each student was calculated. Participants were also asked how often they had five or more drinks of alcohol on one occasion.
A number of covariates that could affect the relationship between exposure to alcohol consumption in movies and binge drinking were also included, i.e. sociodemographic circumstances, behavioral and personality traits, television viewing, and drinking of peers, parents and siblings.
The results showed the lowest exposures occurred among Dutch and German students, and the highest from Italy and Iceland.
In each of the countries, the most highly exposed teens had seen an overwhelming 10,000 alcohol depictions from his or her country-specific sample of popular movies.
Overall, the study noted that in all countries youth who were exposed to alcohol use in movies were significantly more likely to have engaged in binge drinking even after controlling for age, gender, family affluence, school performance, television screen time, sensation seeking and rebelliousness, and frequency of drinking of peers, parents, and siblings.
Few differences were found between the countries – despite substantial differences in culture and alcohol control policies – in terms of the strength of the correlation, with Iceland, being an exception.
The research by Reiner Hanewinkel, James D. Sargent, Evelien Poelen, and others, represents the largest cross-cultural study to date examining the association between exposure to alcohol use in movies and youth drinking.
The association is specific to the depiction of alcohol in movies, and not any other behavior like onscreen smoking.
Though there were some limitations to the study (researchers were not sure whether exposure to onscreen drinking prompted teens to consume more alcohol, or whether binge drinkers preferred movies that had alcohol exposure) the authors asserted that exposure to alcohol use in movies was still a significant risk factor for binge drinking in teens.
Additionally, entertainment's influence on alcohol intake for underage teens was not to be taken lightly because of the many alcohol-related health and social problems affecting several countries including alcohol dependence, which could lead to suicide or brain damage, and death from driving under the influence.
"The results suggest that if steps were taken to decrease exposure of adolescents to movie depictions of alcohol, then fewer young people would take up binge drinking."
To read the complete report online, click here.