Making children eat healthy food can test the patience of parents. The exposure of children to social media platforms such as photo-sharing app Instagram could make the job even tougher for them, suggests a new study.
The findings published in the journal Pediatrics showed that children who view unhealthy snack images on social media platforms are likely to consume more calories from unhealthy snacks.
“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,” said researcher Anna Coate from the University of Liverpool in Britain.
The study was conducted with the aim of examining the effect of social media marketing of snack foods (healthy and unhealthy), via vloggers’ Instagram pages, on children’s snack intake.
During the study 176 children, aged between 9 and 11 years, were randomly split into three equal groups and were shown artificially created, but realistic, Instagram pages of popular vloggers (each has millions of followers).
One group was shown images of the vlogger with unhealthy snacks, the second group was shown images of the vlogger with healthy snacks and the third group was shown images of the vlogger with non-food products.
The participants’ subsequent intake of snacks (healthy and unhealthy options) were measured.
Children in the group that viewed the unhealthy snack images consumed 32 per cent more calories from unhealthy snacks specifically and 26 per cent more calories in total — from healthy and unhealthy snacks — compared with children who saw the non-food images, the findings showed.
The results suggest that the marketing of unhealthy foods, via vloggers’ Instagram pages, increases children’s immediate energy intake.
“Young people trust vloggers more than celebrities so their endorsements may be even more impactful and exploitative,” Coates said.
“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,” she added.