Social Media Junk Food Ads Target Children; Research Shows More Than Half Youth in One Study 'Liked' a Fast Food Brand on Facebook

Cape Times (South Africa), July 2, 2020 | Go to article overview

Social Media Junk Food Ads Target Children; Research Shows More Than Half Youth in One Study 'Liked' a Fast Food Brand on Facebook


Around the world junk food companies are targeting children on social media.

In our new study, we found most major social media platforms have restrictions on the advertising of tobacco, alcohol and gambling to children.

But there are hardly any such restrictions in place around junk food.

Globally, we've seen persistent calls to protect children from exposure to the marketing of unhealthy food and drinks.

This recognises the harmful effects of junk food marketing on children.

While some governments have adopted legislation to restrict kids' exposure to the marketing of unhealthy foods, these laws typically don't apply to social media.

Some food companies have voluntarily pledged to restrict their marketing of unhealthy foods to children.

But most of these pledges are narrow in scope and full of loopholes that allow junk food marketing to proliferate.

As a result, children are heavily exposed to unhealthy food marketing, including on TV, online and through outdoor advertising.

Junk food brands target children on social media through direct advertising, sponsored posts, and by integrating their brand into engaging and entertaining content.

This includes establishing promotional relationships with online "influencers", who then promote the brand as part of the content they post.

In one recent study, more than half of the kids who were active on Facebook had "liked" a fast food brand, which subscribes them to its content.

A similar proportion of kids had "liked" a soft drink brand.

Another study showed teenagers engaged with posts advertising junk food more often than they engaged with posts promoting healthy food.

There's also evidence that when kids are exposed to unhealthy food marketing on social media, it increases the chance they'll consume the promoted product over an alternative brand of the same type of snack.

In our study, we focused on the 16 largest social media platforms globally.

These included platforms popular with children, such as Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Snapchat and Facebook.

We examined each platform's advertising policies related to food and drinks.

We found none of the social media platforms have comprehensive restrictions on the advertising of unhealthy foods to children.

YouTube Kids, a platform popular with children under 13, does ban direct junk food marketing.

But media reports have shown children could still be exposed to junk food brands through product placement and promotional videos on the platform.

We also looked at each platform's advertising policies related to other areas affecting public health. …

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