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Popular movies reflect unhealthy U.S. diet, Stanford study finds

Nov. 23 (UPI) -- Foods displayed on screen in popular movies in recent decades have reflected a mostly unhealthy U.S. diet, Stanford researchers said in study published Monday.

For the study, published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers analyzed how Hollywood's 250 top-grossing movies from 1994 to 2018 showed food on screen.

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The researchers found foods with high sugar content, salty snacks and alcoholic beverages showed up frequently, and in larger portions than recommended, failing U.S. government nutrition guidelines.

"The movie-depicted diet largely failed across the board for U.S. government recommended intake levels -- and it was similar in a lot of ways to what Americans actually eat, which we know to be a mostly unhealthy died," the study's lead author Bradley Turnwald said in a press release.

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"Audiences look up to famous celebrities, superheroes and role models, and we're watching what they're eating and drinking on screen," said Turnwald, a postdoctoral researcher in Stanford's School of Humanities and Sciences.

The study also found the food and beverages displayed largely failed British youth advertising standards as well, since that country has begun to restrict advertising unhealthy foods and beverages to audiences under age 16.

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Stanford psychologists looked at media's influence because they were interested in why most people in the United States don't adhere to a healthy diet even though they know it would be better for them, according to the statement.

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"What we commonly eat and drink and seem to enjoy shapes what movie production studios decide to depict. At the same time movies shape our preferences, our behaviors and our imaginations," said study co-author Hazel Rose Markus, psychology professor and senior author of the study in the statement.

"Restricting which foods and beverages are depicted in cultural media, and thus regulating artistic expression, would be an unpopular and un-American solution," said Markus, a professor of behavioral sciences at Stanford.

"Yet given the demonstrated recent culture-shifting power of movies in so many domains -- think gender, race, sexual orientation -- there is reason for optimism that movies could come to play a major role portraying that Americans eat more than just cake, candy and chips, and in the process, promote healthier food and beverage consumption," she said.

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Earlier this month, another study found young adults in the United States are among the world's heaviest.

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