Is that Right? Movie-theaters should offer healthful snack options?
Let's dish about movie theater food.
Earlier this week, Sony Pictures head Michael Lynton exhorted movie theaters to add healthful snack options to the fare offered at their concession stands. Lynton made clear that he didn't want theaters to stop selling the standard soda, candy and buttery-flavored popcorn. But he cited his company's survey of theater-goers, in which many claimed they'd buy foods such as yogurt, fruit cups, veggies with dip, baked chips and air-popped popcorn, if those choices were available.
The survey's numbers seem kind of squishy to me: The Associated Press account of Lynton's talk reports that in the survey of patrons at 26 movie theaters, "two-thirds of movie-goers said they would be likely to buy healthy concessions if available...60 percent of parents thought that healthier concessions would enhance the movie-going experience and...42 percent of parents would buy concessions at theaters more often if healthier choices were offered." So how many people would actually buy this stuff? Sixty-six percent? 60 percent? 42 percent?
Still, Lynton's request seems reasonable. From the AP report:
"I don't mean close the window for popcorn, soda and candy. Audiences love them and should always be able to buy them at your theaters," Lynton said in the keynote address as the four-day convention opened. "I can almost imagine the Romans eating popcorn and drinking Coke at the Coliseum 2,000 years ago. Or the Greeks munching on Sno-Caps at the Theatre of Dionysus in Athens."
But "by bringing healthier snacks into your concession stands, you would be helping our country meet an urgent public health need," Lynton said.
Lynton's concerns are well-founded, according to this November 2009 report from the Centers for Science in the Public Interest. Upholding previous research, the new report finds that movie-theater popcorn delivers far more calories and saturated fat than anybody needs to eat in a day, let alone during a two-hour movie. Sodas and candy are nothing but empty calories, and plenty of 'em, too.
Add to that our predilection for mindless eating, as exemplified by Brian Wansink's groundbreaking experiments at Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab. In one study, Wansink found that folks eating movie-theater popcorn from large containers ate 45 percent more than those who ate from medium-sized containers -- even when the popcorn was 10 days old and stale.
I'm certainly not going to go on record as supporting the nutritional value of movie-theater popcorn, something I haven't eaten in years. But I have to admit that because my family goes to the movies maybe four or five times a year, tops, I really don't mind treating my kids to a small bag of popcorn while they watch. They both typically choose water over soda, anyway, minimizing the damage to their diets.
As for folks who say that healthful movie-theater snacks are a good idea, I hope they're willing to put their money where their mouths are. Because this scheme can only work if folks actually buy those foods. Otherwise, adding them to the snack lineup would be just an empty exercise in righteousness -- and an economically doomed one, to boot.
I'd ask those folks, too, to take a hard look at the foods their families scarf down while watching DVDs at home. If those snacks come straight from boxes or bags, and if they include sweetened beverages, they aren't likely much better than what you'd buy at the theater. And I'll bet they're consumed far more frequently.
Here's today's poll:
Jennifer LaRue Huget
March 19, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Is That Right? , Me Minus 10 , Nutrition and Fitness , Obesity
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