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Exhibit A: Popcorn bags similar to those at your local multiplex or art-house movie theater


WARNING: This popcorn may contain high levels of sodium and in its topping which increases cholesterol and contributes to high blood pressure and heart disease.

Exhibit B:  Good idea?  Bad idea?  What a popcorn warning label might look like before being put on a bag of popcorn sold at a movie theater

           "People have a right to know what they're eating. . . to not know what you're putting in your body?"
                                                                          -- a concerned woman, who frequently sees movies


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    Each weekend millions of people worldwide consume large amounts of popcorn at movie theaters including in the United States.  Eating popcorn at the local movieplex or art house theater while watching a film on the big screen is synonymous with Oreo cookies being dunked in milk.  Whether by a youngster or a more senior person, both practices are done regularly. 

    While some are aware that popcorn carries a certain level of nutrition, the rate of death in America and various other countries from heart disease can be cause for legitimate concern.  Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans, and is high in numerous nations, some of which are severely impoverished.  In many cases it is cholesterol build-up which leads to heart disease.  Oils, butters and certain topping liquids placed on popcorn, which may already contain high amounts of sodium, can make the chances of a heart attack or having heart disease a likely possibility.  With heart disease and heart attacks being so prevalent among Americans, particularly those in the lower socio-economic tiers of the society (who make up the majority of the moviegoing audience), is it time for movie theaters to start policing the nutritional content (or lack thereof) in popcorn?

    We spoke to a number of people, both moviegoers and people connected in some way to the movies.  All of them but one wished to remain anonymous.

    The idea of health warning labels on popcorn bags at movie theaters was met with, well, a mixed bag of opinion.  Popcorn is "very salty, especially with butter on it.  It's not good for the younger generation, and it definitely is not good for older people," one woman opined.   "There should be labeling," she continued, "and people should be made aware."  Awareness however, did not seem to matter to a man who was jaded by the very question of whether labelling popcorn bought at movie theaters should occur.  "I really don't think it would do much good.  It's like cigarette labels for smokers.  Smokers just ignore them and keep on smoking."  This difference in opinions was typical of those questioned.  Some refused to comment, especially if they were in the movie business, citing that any comment without permission would get them into serious trouble.


       "What about the air we breathe?  I don't see a label on that." -- Peter Witt, cabdriver


    In a post-9/11 age, particularly in the United States where there is a heightened sense of do's, dont's and in betweens when it comes to health warnings and health in general, is the idea of health labelling for popcorn sold at movie theaters really so far fetched?  Not too long ago, McDonalds and other fast food stores toyed with and implemented, a nutrition advisory display board posted about certain foods that it sold, including salads.  In the case of McDonalds -- the world's most popular fast-food restaurant -- their attempts at nutritional content on their food product was chronicled in the film "Super Size Me", a 2004 documentary.  In it director Morgan Spurlock went out of his way to demonstrate the debilitating effects and dangers that gorging on McDonalds can wreak on one's digestive system and overall health.  Mr. Spurlock had three meals of only McDonalds foods each day, for 30 consecutive days.  Recently, a man in California lost a lawsuit against McDonalds after he had incurred serious health problems.  He had argued to a court that McDonalds knew that its foods were not nutritious and had a duty to warn its patrons about the dangers.

    Popcorn by contrast, while highly popular with movie patrons and people in general, has more nutritional value, despite the fact that the sodium content can be high (in both the popcorn and the added topping) and varies from brand to brand.  Even if the nutritional advantages exist in popcorn over fast food, is there a worry that movie theater chains would face lawsuits for a failure to warn patrons through an absence of labeling of popcorn bags sold in theaters?   "We don't anticipate anything like that at all," said someone familiar with film entertainment.  This particular individual gave credit to potential buyers of movie concession stand products for having more sophistication than the question of movie popcorn labelling might otherwise allow.  "We assume that people are responsible enough to know what they are doing."  That response however, is not enough for some.  "People have a right to know what they're eating," said a frequent moviegoer.  Sounding concerned, she added, "to not know what you're eating, what you are putting in your body?"  She acknowledged that labeling should occur even if people disregard it and choose to digest greasy substances like the topping that coats many a popcorn kernel at the movie multiplexes or art house cinemas.

    A cabdriver, Peter Witt, was initially conflicted about whether any labeling of popcorn bags sold in theaters was necessary.  "Why not?  They put a label on everything else."  After thinking for a moment about what he had just said, he admitted that the answer was not so black-and-white or straightforward.  "Well what about the air we breathe?  I don't see a label on that."  Finally, Mr. Witt settled on this conclusion, one echoed by many of the participants interviewed for this story: "people are going to do what they want regardless".


Your daily nutritional scoreboard: One of the better nutrition examples of the contents of a microwavable brand of popcorn, which will remain nameless

    The person familiar with filmed entertainment made light of some of the concerns expressed.  "I mean, you can't subsist on a diet of popcorn and soda."  However, the individual recalled some times when topping, which in some instances has very high sodium and butter content was very unhealthy.  During the "popcorn scare" of the 1980's said this person, "theaters would use stuff [for topping] that you would literally scoop out of a bin.  It was hydrolized.   Things like coconut oil, which is high in saturated oils and fat, would be used often."

"No offense, but I think there are more important things to be worried about." -- a London man

Once upon a time, "theaters would use stuff you would literally scoop out of a bin.  It was hydrolized." --
a person in the know on movie theater popcorn

    Another person in the know on popcorn in movie theaters detailed some of the content that is used to make the popcorn that millions of people eat every week.  "There is the use of Breyer's Yeast, and very low salt content.  For every 48 ounces of rawcorn (popcorn seed), about two ounces of salt are used."  This person said that "our popcorn is less salty than in a lot of places."  This person also went on to say that there are theaters which have a multiple number of flavored sodium-free toppings.  A third person in the know said simply, "we use topping that is not as bad for you as some of the other things that are used."  This person however, shied away from mentioning what those other things were.


    In some instances there was accord between those closer to the matter of popcorn than the moviegoers crunching on it.  Though persons in the know on popcorn either had no comment or didn't see the need for labeling, there were filmgoers who thought that the idea, whether implemented or simply hypothesized, would be met with scarcely a raised eyebrow.   One occasional moviegoer from London stated plainly: "no offense, but I think there are more important things to be worried about."  A man in New York City agreed with the sentiment from England, stating that health warning labels on movie theater popcorn was a waste of time.  And a woman in California echoed the sentiments of quite a few people when she said that "people at the movies are generally not concerned about the content of what they are eating as long as they are eating it."

What is your reaction to this story?  And what is your favorite movie theater for popcorn?  
 E-mail film@popcornreel.com


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