Movie Night

Serving Up More Shame in Children’s Movies

Movies offer an escape from harsh realities, right? That’s the conventional wisdom to explain why we watch. But a new analysis published in the December issue of Pediatrics suggests that’s not entirely true. A child being bullied about body weight can be pretty sure that the most popular children’s movies will include fat shaming messages. In fact, Janna Howard and colleagues found that 84% of the top children’s movies between 2012 and 2015 promote weight stigma.

Fat Fish Chowing Down on Burgers

The researchers analyzed the content of 31 top G- and PG-rated films. Raters coded the movie content according to a prespecified list of variables related to stigma, eating, and physical activity. This research builds upon work previously published about movies released between 2006 and 2010.

Unfortunately, they found no evidence that fat shaming in children’s movies is fading. In fact, the percentage of movies with stigmatizing content was up a few points in the latest batch of films.

These are petty insults posing as entertainment. In a SpongeBob movie, two attractive fish enjoy a romantic moment while a solitary fat fish gorges on a burger. Other fish single out a fat starfish and mock him as a glutton. At the same time these films mock characters with obesity, they also depict unhealthy foods and large portion sizes as a norm for all characters.

A Reflection or a Driver of the Culture?

The real question remains unanswered by this research. What shall we do with this information? Certainly it points to a problem. But it’s not clear whether the films themselves are part of the problem or merely a reflection of the problem.

Tobacco policy advocates work hard to keep smoking out of films for children. They have a body of evidence that led the Surgeon General to say film depictions of smoking lead youth to start smoking. But obesity is a different issue and the authors of this present study say as much.

What is clear is that movies reflect the culture. And what we see in this mirror is not pretty.

Click here for the study. By clicking here and here, you can find further perspective.

Movie Night, photograph © Chris Isherwood / flickr

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December 9, 2017

One Response to “Serving Up More Shame in Children’s Movies”

  1. December 09, 2017 at 11:56 am, Allen Browne said:

    Yup – you don’t need to smoke to live an d you do need to eat to live.

    Yup – the films are a problem because they are cruel and they maintain/encourage a stereotype. Also, the films are a reflection of the widespread stigma and bias that perhaps education can reduce. Many people are very receptive to education about he physiology of the disease of obesity because they know the person inside the body afflicted by the disease.