Children bombarded with junk food marketing on social media

By our News Team | 2021

The ethics of marketing junk food to children has long been debated. New academic research pinpoints the extent of the problem on social media.

Children are being exposed to more than 100 unhealthy food promotions on their mobile phones each week, according to a recent research study done in Australia.

For every hour that a child spends online on their phone, they viewed more than 17 food and drink promotions, a figure that is almost nine times higher than their exposure to marketing via television advertising, say academics from the University of Wollongong.

They found that, over a week, children were exposed to an average of 168 online food and drink promotions, contrasted with an average of 19 a week when watching television.

Associate Professor Bridget Kelly, the lead researcher on the study and a published author on the topic of food marketing, said the results emphasised how frequently adolescents are being exposed to extensive marketing for unhealthy foods while using social media platforms.

She noted that food and drink marketers tap into young audiences through online social networks because the brands are seemingly endorsed by peers or online communities.

Assumption products are endorsed by peers

“When food and drinks are marketed on social media, via social media communities or online influencers, it comes with the assumption that the products are endorsed by peers and online communities. Brands tap into these pages’ networks of online followers and social cache, heightening the marketing effects,” she said.

“This marketing normalises unhealthy foods, creates positive brand images, and encourages overconsumption.”

The study surveyed children aged between 13-17 over a three-day period on their exposure to food and beverage marketing while using their mobile devices. The participants had accounts on social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and YouTube. 

Professor Kelly, who is based at the university’s School of Health and Society, said food and drinks marketed online are almost exclusively high in salt, fat, and sugar. In other words, they’re unhealthy.

 “The rate of promotions for unhealthy foods and beverages was 50 times higher than the rate of promotions for healthier products,” she emphasised.

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