Marketing of unhealthy foods remains rife on made-for-kids videos

By our News Team | 2023

Researchers “were shocked” to find how frequently unhealthy food brands appeared in videos on popular child-influencer YouTube channels.

Candy, unhealthy snacks, sugary drinks and ice cream brands frequently appear in videos posted by top child-influencers on ‘made-for-kids’ YouTube channels, according to a new paper from researchers at the University of Connecticut in the US.

The study’s findings, published in the peer-reviewed journal Pediatric Obesity, found that 38% of child-influencer videos featured branded food, beverage, or restaurant products. These appeared four times per video on average.

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Candy brands appeared most often (42% of brand appearances), followed by sweet and salty snacks, sugary drinks and ice cream (32% combined). Healthy branded products – such as bottled water, plain milk or fruit – made up just 9% of food brand appearances.

“We were shocked to find how frequently candy, chips, cookie, sugary drink and ice cream brands appeared in videos on popular child-influencer YouTube channels; channels with billions of young viewers,” said Dr Frances Fleming-Milici, Director of Marketing Initiatives at the university’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Health.

“Despite YouTube’s ban on food and beverage advertising on ‘made-for-kids’ channels, child-influencers continue to push branded products on young viewers that harm their health.”

The research found that the total number of branded food-related appearances did not change from 2019 to 2020, but candy brands increased significantly (36% vs. 47% of total appearances). The number of videos showing healthy non-branded products also increased.

Two-thirds of videos had unhealthy food products

However, unhealthy products appeared in more than two-thirds of these videos, counteracting potential opportunities to convey positive healthy eating messages to child viewers.

Despite the large number of videos with branded product appearances, just one video included a disclosure indicating a financial relationship between the brand and child-influencer. Researchers could not determine whether other child-influencers received compensation from companies to place branded products in their videos.

Additional findings include:

  • A main character consumed the branded food or beverage in approximately one-third of appearances, and this increased from 25% in 2019 to 38% in 2020, raising concerns about the powerful influence these types of appearances have on child viewers.
  • In 15% of videos, food-related brands were also mentioned verbally by characters or appeared as brand logos on toys, stickers, or thumbnails shown with the video title when searching on YouTube.
  • Approximately three video ads were shown during each child-influencer video, but they were largely in compliance with YouTube’s policy. Only five ads (around 0.01% of all video ads) promoted food or beverage products.

“More than one-half of branded product appearances featured brands from companies that participate in the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, a US food industry self-regulatory programme,” said Dr Jennifer Harris, Senior Research Advisor at the Rudd Center. 

“Despite these companies’ pledges to only promote healthier dietary choices to children, child-influencers frequently promoted brands that participating companies could not advertise directly to children, including candy, sugary drinks and sweet and salty snacks.”

Find out more about the study ‘Prevalence of food and beverage brands in “made-for-kids” child-influencer YouTube videos: 2019–2020’ here.

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    Dr Kin Kariisa

    Group CEO - Next Media

    Dr. Kin Kariisa is an extraordinary force at the helm of Next Media Services, a conglomerate encompassing NBS TV, Nile Post, Sanyuka TV, Next Radio, Salam TV, Next Communication, Next Productions, and an array of other influential enterprises. His dynamic role as Chief Executive Officer exemplifies his unwavering commitment to shaping media, business, and community landscapes.
    With an esteemed academic journey, Dr. Kariisa’s accolades include an Honorary PhD in exemplary community service from the United Graduate College inTexas, an MBA from United States International University in Nairobi, Kenya, a Master’s degree in Computer Engineering from Huazong University in China, and a Bachelor’s degree in Statistics from Makerere University.
    Dr. Kariisa pursued PhD research in Computer Security and Identity Management at Security of Systems Group, Radboud University in Nijmegen, Netherlands. As a dynamic educator, he has shared his expertise as a lecturer of e-Government and Information Security at both Makerere University and Radboud University.

    Dr Kin did his PhD research in Computer Security and Identity Management at Security of Systems Group, Radbond University in Nigmegen, Netherlands. He previously served as a lecturer of e-Government and Information Security at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda and Radbond University in Netherlands.

    Dr Kin did his postgraduate courses in Strategic Business Management, Strategic Leadership Communication and Strategies for Leading Successful Change Initiatives at Harvard University, Boston USA.

    • Other current and previous roles played by Dr Kin Kariisa:
    • Lecturer of e-Government and Information Security to graduate students at Makerere University, Kampala and Radbond University in the Netherlands
    • Director of Eco Bank Uganda Limited, one of the largest banks in Africa
    • Chairman of the National Association of Broadcasters, an umbrella industry association for all Television, Radio and online broadcasters in Uganda.
    • Chairman of Board of Directors of Nile Hotel International, that owns the leading hotel in Uganda, Kampala Serena Hotel.
    • Chairman of Board of Directors of Soliton Telmec Uganda, the leading telecom company in Optic fibre business managing over 80% of optic fibre in Uganda.