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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.
Photo by Fauxels from Pexels
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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