New study finds children eat more junk food after watching YouTube 1 year ago

New study finds children eat more junk food after watching YouTube

The power of social media.

There is no denying that we are all influenced – to an extent, one way or another – by social media. From Instagram to TikTok and YouTube, we are increasingly making decisions and buying products based on the content we consume and the personalities we follow.

And this goes for children too.

Which becomes a rather unsettling thought when you think about how much more online content children are consuming these days.

A recent study found that children who watch YouTube are more likely to eat junk food – as they are finding themselves inspired by the social media personalities they follow there.

The research by the University of Liverpool was presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Vienna recently, and showed that those who see their favourite online stars eating unhealthy food in videos eat nearly an extra 100 calories – 26 per cent more – when choosing a snack.

In the study, 176 children were split into groups and shown pictures of YouTube stars promoting either healthy food, unhealthy food, or something that wasn’t food.

The children were then offered snacks afterwards.

Interestingly, those who had watched an unhealthy food promotion ate 448 calories – 26 per cent more than children in the other two groups who consumed 357.

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Snacks offered included carrot sticks, grapes, chocolate buttons and jelly sweets, and children who see the social media personalities eat unhealthily choose unhealthy options for themselves, the scientists found.

The major problem with children consuming online content like this, experts say, is that children are often too young to know what is an advert and what is the stars’ normal behaviour – because online advertising is more subtle than on television.

Brink of an obesity crisis

Adding more unhealthy food to their diets become a massive problem when you realise that more children now than ever are being diagnosed as being clinically obese.

Anna Coates, a PhD research student and lead researcher on the study, said: ‘We know that if you show children a traditional drink advert, then their preference for that drink rises.

‘We wanted to test their reactions to this new type of celebrity, the social media star.

She explains:

‘Now that we’ve shown that children are influenced by online stars, our next study will look at whether they understand that, in many cases, celebrities are being paid to promote products.’

When we watch ads on TV, it becomes clearer that this is, in fact, an ad.

‘There’s an advert break, there’s a jingle – whereas digitally it’s a lot more embedded in the rest of the content," Dr Emma Boyland, one of the researchers said of the study's findings.

This becomes far less clear when it is an online ad, cleverly masked as content.