Kid Influencers Generate Enormous Views for Unhealthy Food Products

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Marie Bragg, PhD Assistant Professor, Department of Population Health on Health Choice NYU College of Global Public Health

Dr. Bragg

Marie Bragg, PhD
Assistant Professor, Department of Population Health on Health Choice
NYU College of Global Public Health

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: We know from previous research that children who see food advertisements eat significantly more calories than children who see non-food advertisements. Those studies led the World Health Organization and National Academy of Medicine to issue reports declaring that exposure to food advertising is a major driver of childhood obesity.

What we don’t know is how frequently unhealthy food and beverage brands are appearing in YouTube videos posted by Kid Influencers. Kid influences are children whose parents film videos of the child playing with toys, unwrapping presents, eating food, or engaging in other family-friendly activities. The parents then post the videos to YouTube for other children and parents to view for entertainment. 

MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?

Response: For our study, we analyzed a sample of 418 videos from five of the most-watched Kid Influencers on YouTube. We found that 43% of the videos featured food and beverage products, and 90% of those food and beverages were unhealthy brands (e.g., fries from McDonald’s Healthy, unbranded products—like fruit—made up just 3% of the foods and beverages shown.). Nutrition scores were generated using the Nutrient Profile Model, a validated nutrition scoring tool used in nutrition research. We also found that videos featuring food and beverages were viewed more than 1 billion times on YouTube. 

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: These findings demonstrate that Kid Influencers are generating enormous amounts of views for unhealthy products in ways that can contribute to poor diet among children who view the videos.

But it’s not enough to educate parents and children about this new type of product placement. More than a dozen countries now have regulations limiting child-targeted food marketing, but the U.S. does not. In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission should better enforce their guidelines that ask influencers to disclose paid sponsorships. And “host-selling”–where the main character promotes a product–is not permitted on TV, and should also be prohibited on YouTube videos that target children.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: For television commercials, we know children younger than age 8 years have trouble discerning that commercials are meant to sell products. But in these YouTube videos, the “ad” is even more disguised because it is woven into the story line (e.g., a kid influencer playing with plastic McDonald’s Drive Thru toys or doing a science experiment with Skittles). We need more research to understand the ages at which children begin to understand that influencers may be trying to sell a product. Understanding how children respond to these promotions is an important step for reducing children’s exposure to this form of unhealthy advertising.

I do not have any conflicts of interest. 

Citation:

Child Social Media Influencers and Unhealthy Food Product Placement

Amaal Alruwaily, Chelsea Mangold, Tenay Greene, Josh Arshonsky, Omni Cassidy, Jennifer L. Pomeranz and Marie Bragg
Pediatrics October 2020, e20194057; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2019-4057

 

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Last Modified: Oct 26, 2020 @ 11:16 pm

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