Exposure to social media marketing of unhealthy food could lead to an immediate increase in children's intake of unhealthy food with more calories, a new study published in Pediatrics Monday suggested.
With an aim to examine the impact of social media marketing of snack foods on children's snack intake, researchers of the University of Liverpool in Britain designed a control experiment which consisted of 176 participants aged nine to 11.
The participants were randomly split into three equal groups with each assigned to one of three influencer-marketing conditions: healthy food marketing, unhealthy food marketing, and non-food marketing, and shown artificially created social media pages of popular vloggers consuming different kinds of food.
The result showed that children in the group that viewed unhealthy snack images consumed 31.5 percent more calories from unhealthy snacks specifically, and 25.5 percent more calories in total compared with children who saw non-food images (the control group).
According to the study, even though acute experimental exposure to influencers promoting unhealthy food on social media revealed direct influence on children's food intake, healthy food endorsements on social media had little or no effect on them regarding healthy food intake.
"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," Anna Coates, a member of the research team, said in a report published on the university's website.