Young people who watch a lot of movies featuring alcohol use, are twice as likely to drink, according to new research by Dartmouth Medical School. In the span of two years, the American researchers questioned more than 6,500 youngsters four times, asking in each session whether they had seen any of 50 randomly selected films.

 

These subjects, all between the ages of 10 and 14, were questioned about their drinking behavior, as well as various factors that could affect drinking behavior.

During the two year course of the research, the number of young people who drank increased from 11 to 25 percent. The number of binge drinkers, defined as drinking five drinks directly in a row, increased from 4 to 13 percent.

Factors that influenced the drinking behavior, included parents who drank at home and the availability of alcohol in the house. However, these factors do not seem to influence the proportion of binge drinkers.

Having friends who drank, rebelliousness, exposure to alcohol in movies and owning branded merchandise influence both the onset of drinking and the shift from ‘normal drinking’ behavior to binge drinking.

Young people who watched films where alcohol usage was depicted, were two times as likely to start drinking and had a 63 percent greater chance to start binge drinking. One of the more remarkable findings of the study was that not only alcohol consumption of the protagonists affected drinking behaviors of young viewers, but also indirect depictions of alcohol use (such as the depiction of bottles of alcohol or glasses).

Writing in the journal BMJ Open, the authors said alcohol product placement in movies was to blame for some of the influence on teenage drinking habits: ‘Product placement in movies is forbidden for cigarettes in the U.S., 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’ .

The depiction of smoking in movies has fallen, they said, and suggested alcohol in movies ‘may deserve similar emphasis’. The authors concluded: ‘Like influenza, images in Hollywood movies begin in one region of the world then spread globally, where they may affect drinking behaviours of adolescents everywhere they are distributed.’

The article is freely available at bmjopen.bmj.com

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