MONDAY, March 5 (HealthDay News) -- The more adolescents watch
movie stars sidle up to the bar on the big screen, the more alcohol
they drink themselves, a new study suggests.
A cross-sectional survey of more than 16,000 teens aged 10 to 19
from six European countries -- the largest study of its kind --
indicated that 27 percent had consumed five or more drinks on at
least one occasion.
Teens who had seen more alcohol use in movies were significantly
more likely to have engaged in binge drinking, a pattern observed
across cultures with different norms regarding teen and adult
"The striking thing to me is how consistent the results were across countries and cultures," said study co-author Dr. James Sargent, a professor of pediatrics and community and family medicine at Dartmouth Medical School in Lebanon, N.H. "Whatever you want your alcohol to do for you -- make you feel rich, funny, sophisticated -- you can see that in the movies. That shapes how kids see alcohol and their decisions whether to binge drink."
The study was released online March 5 in advance of publication
in the April print issue of the journal
Research centers in Germany, Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands,
Poland and Scotland gave students lists containing a random
selection of 50 box-office hits based on data on movie revenues in
each respective country. Participants were asked to report how
often they had seen each movie, all of which were content-coded
with regard to alcohol use, and how often they consumed five or
more alcoholic drinks at one time.
Fifty-six percent of the movies listed were included in the top
100 box-office hits in the United States, where recent research
indicated a similar link between actors' onscreen alcohol use and
teen drinking habits, Sargent said. Overall, 86 percent of the
total 655 movies included at least one alcohol scene, the study
The most highly exposed adolescents had seen more than 10,000
alcohol depictions from their country-specific sample of popular
movies, the study estimated.
"Adolescents are particularly vulnerable because they're seeking identity, seeking role models, seeking ways of acting in a particular situation," said Dr. Dimitri Christakis, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children's Research Institute. "So the idea that you would see actors, many of whom you might look up to, drinking -- and excess drinking in many cases -- not only normalizes it for adolescents but goes further and makes it the kind of behavior you would want to emulate."
Study participants who were exposed to more movies depicting
alcohol use were much more likely to have engaged in binge drinking
even after controlling for other influences such as frequency of
drinking by peers, parents and siblings, rebelliousness, school
performance, family affluence and television screen time.
Christakis said the study's main weakness was its
cross-sectional nature, which generalizes results from only a slice
of a certain population. "It's very difficult to prove causal
relationships with cross-sectional data," said Christakis, also a
professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of
Medicine. "But this has been studied in many different cultures and
countries and yet replicated in all of them, which gives it further
Just as cutting smoking scenes from movies has decreased smoking
rates over time, doing the same with alcohol could produce similar
effects, Sargent and Christakis agreed, though they characterized
such an initiative as unlikely.
"There has been a big public health outcry directed at the movie industry that has shamed and embarrassed them that [contributed to a drop in] movie smoking," Sargent said. "The same thing could and should happen with alcohol."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more
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