Background: Exposure to alcohol products in feature films is a risk factor for use of alcohol by young people. This study was designed to document the extent to which alcohol imagery and brand appearances occur in popular UK films, and in relation to British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) age ratings intended to protect children and young people from harmful imagery.
Methods: Alcohol appearances (classified as 'alcohol use, inferred alcohol use, other alcohol reference and alcohol brand appearances') were measured using 5-min interval coding of 300 films, comprising the 15 highest grossing films at the UK Box Office each year over a period of 20 years from 1989 to 2008.
Results: At least one alcohol appearance occurred in 86% of films, at least one episode of alcohol branding in 35% and nearly a quarter (23%) of all intervals analysed contained at least one appearance of alcohol. The occurrence of 'alcohol use and branded alcohol appearances' was particularly high in 1989, but the frequency of these and all other appearance categories changed little in subsequent years. Most films containing alcohol appearances, including 90% of those including 'alcohol brand appearances', were rated as suitable for viewing by children and young people. The most frequently shown brands were American beers: Budweiser, Miller and Coors. Alcohol appearances were similarly frequent in films originating from the UK, as from the USA.
Conclusion: Alcohol imagery is extremely common in all films popular in the UK, irrespective of BBFC age classification. Given the relationship between exposure to alcohol imagery in films and use of alcohol by young people, we suggest that alcohol imagery should be afforded greater consideration in determining the suitability of films for viewing by children and young people.