Adolescents and social media food marketing

by Daphne van der Bend

Food marketing influences children’s attitudes, preferences and food intake

A large body of evidence has shown that food marketing to children via traditional media channels (e.g. television and print) predominantly promotes the consumption of energy-dense nutrient-poor (EDNP) foods and beverages, enhancing children’s attitudes, preferences and increased intake of these foods, with detrimental consequences for their health. Restriction of unhealthy food marketing to children is currently regarded as a top priority in global public health policies for tackling the increasing childhood obesity rates.

Social media food marketing targeted to adolescents

There has been a recent shift from traditional marketing towards digital (online) marketing, with social media being an increasingly used channel for food marketers. With the rise of social media food marketing (SMFM), strategies to promote food products and brands have transformed. Social media food marketers often use implicit persuasion tactics where marketing content is blurred by entertaining and emotionally engaging content.
SMFM engages large groups of adolescents, as 95% of adolescents have access to a smartphone and 45% report to be online almost constantly, with Youtube, Instagram and Snapchat being the most popular social media platforms among adolescents. Adolescents 12 to 16 years view six times more social media food marketing instances annually than children 7 to 11 years. Adolescents are vulnerable to the appealing and engaging nature of SMFM as they are still in a phase of cognitive development. Yet, there is only limited evidence on adolescents’ actual exposure to SMFM and its impact on their dietary behaviours. This is crucial if we would want to tackle any harmful effects caused by SMFM and promote adolescent health.

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Purpose of project

The main purpose of this project is to gain a better understanding of adolescents’ exposure to SMFM and the (perceived) impact on their food and beverage consumption, in order to develop strategies that make adolescents more resilient against unhealthy SMFM. The studies conducted as part of this project are currently in progress and the results will be shared on this website as soon as they are completed.


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