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Social media can negatively impact children’s eating habits

New research from the University of Liverpool shows that social media has a large negative impact on children’s food intake. Social media’s effects on eating habits had yet to be studied before now. However, with 93% of 8 to 11 year olds and 99% of 12 to 15 year olds currently participating in the online community, it’s necessary to know how social media content affects the way they eat.

Published in the journal Pediatrics, the study, lead by Anna Coates, a PhD student from the University’s Appetite and Obesity research group, looked into the effects of social media media marketing of snack foods, both healthy and unhealthy, via YouTube vloggers’ Instagram accounts, on kids’ eating habits and snack food intake.

176 children between the ages of 9 and 11 were split into three groups. Each group was shown artificial Instagram pages of popular YouTube vloggers. The first group was shown images of the vlogger promoting unhealthy snacks, the second group saw the vlogger promoting healthy snacks, and the third group only saw images that did not contain food.

Kids who were exposed to the vlogger marketing unhealthy snacks consumed 26% more kcals in total, and 32% more kcals from unhealthy snacks in particular, compared to those kids who did not see food-related vlogger posts. Those who were exposed to healthy food posts did not exhibit a change in their kcal intake.

“These findings suggest that the marketing of unhealthy foods, via vloggers’ Instagram pages, increases children’s immediate energy intake,” Coates said. “The results are supported by celebrity endorsement data, which show unhealthy food endorsements increase children’s unhealthy food intake, but healthy food endorsements have little or no effect on healthy food intake.”

Coates added that younger audiences trust vloggers and social media influences more so than they do celebrities. In previous decades, the impact of celebrity unhealthy food endorsement had been researched, with similar outcomes.

Because of this shocking spike in the intake of unhealthy snacks due to vlogger influence, Coates concludes, “Tighter restrictions are needed around the digital marketing of unhealthy foods that children are exposed to, and vloggers should not be permitted to promote unhealthy foods to vulnerable young people on social media.”

By Olivia Harvey, Staff Writer

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