Movies for kids still depict unsafe behaviors

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - While movie makers have gotten better at portraying appropriate injury-prevention tactics in movies made for kids, many scenes still show characters riding bikes without helmets, on boats without life vests, and riding in cars without buckling up, a US government study found.

“Oftentimes, children imitate what they see in the movies and if they see bad safety practices - they might adopt them,” first author Dr. Jon Eric Tongren, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, warned in an email to Reuters Health.

To see whether injury-prevention practices in children’s movies have improved or worsened over the years, Tongren’s team analyzed 67 of the most popular G-rated and PG-rated movies released between 2003 and 2007 and compared them with similarly-rated movies reviewed in 1995-1997 and 1998-2002.

Overall, the entertainment industry has improved the depiction of injury prevention practices “significantly” in G- and PG-rated movies marketed for children in comparison with past studies, Tongren told Reuters Health.

In the latest films, 56 percent of motor vehicle passengers wore seat belts, up from 27 percent in 1995-1997 and 35 percent in 1998-2002; 35 percent of pedestrians used crosswalks in the latest films, up from roughly 15 percent in the earlier time periods; 25 percent of bicyclists wore helmets, up from 6 percent in 1995-1997 and 15 percent in 1998-2002; and 75 percent of boaters wore personal flotation devices, which is also significantly more than in the earlier films.

Despite these improvements, however, over half of the scenes analyzed depicted unsafe practices, the investigators found.


The observation that G and PG movies rarely show the consequences of unsafe behaviors in movies is particularly concerning, the investigators say. Of 22 scenes that involved crashes or falls, only 3 (less than 1 percent) showed characters actually getting injured. Not showing a character getting injured “might desensitize children to the real consequences of not following safe injury prevention practices,” Tongren said.

The CDC, trade organizations such as the Entertainment Industry Council (EIC), and advocacy groups such as the Hollywood, Health, and Society Program at the University of Southern California, are working with the entertainment industry to improve health and social messaging in movies. “Scripts are being reviewed by health experts so they convey appropriate health messages such as injury prevention practices,” Tongren noted.

“Hollywood has total creative freedom in doing what they want and we are seeing an increase in accurate health portrayals,” Sandra de Castro Buffington, director of Hollywood, Health and Society, added in a telephone interview with Reuters Health.

“My take,” said Joan Graves of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), “is that the entertainment industry is reacting to changes in our culture; years ago you would never have seen anyone put on a seat belt in a movie and now you automatically see (actors) get in a car and automatically strap themselves in.”


Graves, who is head of the MPAA’s Classification and Rating Administration, also wants parents to know that, for PG-rated films (and higher), the MPAA lists all the elements of a film that have risen to the PG level, “because the PG rating tells parents there is something in this film that you need a caution about.”

G-rated films, on the other hand, have never carried rating “descriptors” because these films are for all audiences, “but I’ve often thought maybe they should,” Graves said.

“A G-rated film says there is nothing in this film that would not be entirely suitable for your entire family, but, frankly, parents are taking their children at younger and younger ages to G-rated films and for some children -- aged 1 and a half to 2 -- the minute the lights go down and the noise comes on they are scared and the parents say, ‘but this is rated G.’”

“But maybe they aren’t ready for the experience of even a G-rated movie.”

SOURCE: Pediatrics, February 2010.