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Booze in movies may fuel teenage drinking

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Watching a lot of movies that feature alcohol doubles the likelihood that young teens will start drinking, and these teens are more likely to progress to binge drinking, according to a new study.

The researchers said their findings suggest that U.S. movie makers should adopt the same restrictions for alcohol-product placement as they have for tobacco.

The study included more than 6,500 U.S. kids, aged 10 to 14, who were asked about their consumption of alcohol, and potentially influential factors such as movie viewing and marketing, their home environment, peer behavior and personal rebelliousness.

During the two-year study, the proportion of kids who started drinking alcohol more than doubled from 11 percent to 25 percent, and the proportion of those who started binge drinking (five or more drinks in a row) tripled from 4 percent to 13 percent, the investigators found.

Having parents who drank and availability of alcohol at home were associated with kids starting to drink, but not with progression to binge drinking, according to the study published online Feb. 21 in the journal BMJ Open.

However, watching movies that featured alcohol use, owning alcohol-branded merchandise, having friends who drank, and rebelliousness were all associated with both starting to drink and progression to binge drinking, the findings showed.

After they adjusted for a number of factors, the researchers concluded that teens who watched the most movies featuring alcohol were twice as likely to start drinking and 63 percent more likely to progress to binge drinking than teens who watched the fewest of such movies.

Watching movies featuring alcohol use accounted for 28 percent of the kids who started drinking and for 20 percent of those who moved on to binge drinking, the researchers noted in a journal news release. The association was not only seen with movie characters who drink but also with alcohol product placement.

"Product placement in movies is forbidden for cigarettes in the U.S.A., but is legal and commonplace for the alcohol industry, with half of Hollywood films containing at least one alcohol-brand appearance, regardless of film rating," James Sargent, of Norris Cotton Cancer Center, Dartmouth Medical School in Lebanon, N.H., and colleagues wrote in the report.

While the researchers uncovered an association between alcohol use in movies and teen drinking, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism offers advice on parenting to prevent childhood alcohol use.

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