LEBANON, N.H. — Widespread research has been conducted on the impact of food and beverage advertising during children’s television programming, and now a new study from researchers at the Hood Center for Children and Families at Dartmouth Medical School suggests movies also may exert significant influence on eating habits.

The study, “Prevalence of Food and Beverage Brands in Movies: 1996-2005,” was published on the Pediatrics journal web site this week and will appear in the March issue of the print magazine.
According to the research, most of the 1,180 brand placements identified and verified in the 200 movies coded featured energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods or product lines.

“The current situation in the United States is very serious in terms of the health of our children,” said Lisa Sutherland, lead author and a research professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School. “We have to look seriously at all of the factors that may be contributing to it, including the impact of product placements in movies.”

In conducting the study, the researchers looked at the top 20 U.S. box office movie hits based on total gross revenue for each year from 1996 to 2005, ranging from movies rated “G” to those rated “R.” They determined 138 of the movies, or 69%, contained at least one food, beverage, or food retail establishment brand. A brand placement was defined as an identifiable logo, product name, or both.

Of the 1,180 brand placements identified, 427 were food, 425 were beverage and 328 were food retail establishment brand placements. Candy/confections (26%) and salty snacks (21%) were the most prevalent food brands, while sugar-sweetened beverages (76%) were the most prevalent beverage brands.

The researchers determined that six companies — PepsiCo, Inc., Purchase, N.Y.; Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta; Nestle USA, Glendale, Calif.; McDonald’s Corp., Oak Brook, Ill.; Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Inc., Plano, Texas; and Burger King Corp., Miami — accounted for 45% of all brand placements. Meanwhile, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola accounted for nearly 75% of the beverage brand placements.

Specific product types and brand line extension often were represented for food brand placements, the researchers noted. For example, 68% of PepsiCo’s non-beverage brand placements were Frito-Lay salty snack products; 83% of Nestle’s brand placements were Willy Wonka Brands candy/confections; 75% of Minneapolis-based General Mills, Inc.’s products were cereal brands; and 72% of Battle Creek, Mich.-based Kellogg Co.’s brands were cereals.

“There has been much research and discussion about the potential impact of food and beverage advertising on children’s television,” the researchers said. “Our findings clearly demonstrate the need to expand this forum to include movies, especially those rated for youth audiences. Of particular concern are the food and beverage product placements in comedies and PG-rated and PG-13-rated movies, which are geared specifically to older children and teenagers, who are gaining independence with respect to their food choices.

Although the impact of this type of advertising on children is not known, it provides a likely avenue by which brand loyalty and product preference can be built.”

In their concluding remarks, the researchers said movies are providing an avenue through which companies are marketing foods of low nutritional value to consumers, including children and adolescents. As such, they called for additional research on the subject.

“These findings provide a benchmark against which future research can evaluate the commitments by food companies to change the nature of food advertising directed at America’s children as promised by the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative pledge,” the researchers noted.