15 Apr 2019

Childhood obesity is a growing problem worldwide. A new study by the Institute of Psychology, Health, and Society, University of Liverpool suggest that the problem could be exacerbated by influencer-led social media marketing

More than ever young children are engaged with social media, with social platforms taking up a significant proportion of their time online. 50% of 8-11 year olds in the UK report using Instagram, and more than 80% of 5-15 year olds use YouTube. Brands are turning to popular social media influencers in order to access their highly-engaged, and often very young, audience. Products are often marketed or featured within entertaining content that influencers are creating for their subscribers, which don’t look like traditional adverts meaning that the feeling of being exposed to marketing is low.

This creates a very real possibility that young viewers could be highly-susceptible to influencer marketing on social media platforms, with surveys showing that young people find social media influencers more trustworthy than traditional celebrities. As no study had researched the effects of social media influencers on dietary behaviour the Institute of Psychology, Health, and Society, University of Liverpool wanted to see if the results of their research would mirror traditional celebrity-endorsed HFSS foods. In previous studies of television advertising it was shown that an endorsement of HFSS foods by a celebrity would lead to an increased interest among children, where healthy foods that were endorsed saw less of an increase.

For the research 176 children were split into three groups to view mock Instagram profiles of two popular YouTube vloggers. One group was shown the influencer with an unhealthy food product, the next with a healthy product, and the third were shown images with a non-food product. The participants were then measured for their intake of healthy, unhealthy and overall food intake. 

Children more likely to eat unhealthy foods that are promoted

The results of the study showed that children who viewed the profiles marketing unhealthy snacks saw a significant increase in food overall, as well as a significant increase in consumption of unhealthy foods, than the children who were shown non-food promotions. The children shown healthy foods saw no significant change in intake, similar to the results that were seen from traditional advertising of healthy foods.

It’s clear that parents should be aware and concerned of the content their children are consuming on social media platforms such as YouTube. This study shows that kids are more likely to consume larger quantities of unhealthy foods when encouraged to do so, but sadly are not likely to do the same with healthy foods that are promoted. The Institute of Psychology, Health, and Society, University of Liverpool suggests that more research should take place to help inform potential policy in relation to this form of marketing.

Read the report here