CDC Study Finds Characters in Children’s Movies are Setting a Better Example About Personal Safety

Characters in children’s movies are increasingly using seat belts, bike helmets and crosswalks, but there is still much room for improvement, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found. Approximately one half of scenes still depict unsafe practices, and the consequences of these behaviors are rarely shown.

The report says theentertainment industry should continue to improve how it depicts safety practices in children’s movies, and parents should highlight the depiction of unsafe behaviors and educate children in following safe practices. The study, published this past Monday in Pediatrics, analyzed 67 popular movies from 2003 to 2007 that were rated G for general audiences or PG — parental guidance suggested. 958 person-scenes were examined: 524 (55%) depicted children and 434 (45%) adults. Twenty-two person-scenes involved motor vehiclecrashes or falls, resulting in 3 injuries and no deaths.

Movies or scenes were excluded if they were animated, not set in the present day, fantasy, documentary, or not in English. Injury-prevention practices involving motor vehicles, pedestrians, boaters, and bicyclists were recorded for characters with speaking roles. The results, compared with two previous CDC studies – from 1998-2002 and 1995-97 – included: –56 percent of car passengers wore seat belts, versus 35 percent and 27 percent; –35 percent of characters used crosswalks, versus 15 percent and 16 percent (11% depicted pedestrians looking both ways before crossing); –25 percent of bicyclists wore helmets, versus 15 percent and 6 percent; –75 percent of boaters wore life jackets, versus none and 17 percent.

Some unsafe behavior increased, including riding motorcycles without a helmet. The study also analyzed depictions of horseback riding, skateboarding, riding a scooter, rollerblading, riding a snowmobile, and riding an ATV in the context of the appropriate use of helmets, elbow pads, wrist pads and knee pads. The report is concerned that many scenes minimize an accident’s dangers and may give young children a false sense of safety. Unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death among children in the United States. Children often imitate what they see depicted in films.

The two previous studies found that appropriate injury-prevention practices were infrequently portrayed in movies marketed for children. An example given in the study is when actor Will Ferrell in the 2003 Christmas movie ”Elf” gets knocked down by a New York City taxi while crossing the street and bounces back up without a scratch (at least he was walking in a crosswalk). Another example is in the 2005 comedy ”Yours, Mine and Ours,” about a family with 18 kids, the children are wearing life jackets during a boat trip — but not the parents.

It is felt that the improvement reflects efforts of the CDC and other public health groups to urge film and TV producers to convey accurate and safe health messages because mass media has such a powerful influence on behavior — especially children’s.

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