Amid growing calls for tougher rules on junk food advertising to address obesity crisis, a new study suggests that social media stars might be encouraging children to develop unhealthy food habits. The study, conducted by the University of Liverpool, found that kids who saw vloggers consuming sugary and fatty snacks went to consume more calories than those who did not, the BBC reported. The research called for more protection for children online, particularly on social media channels, where the lines between an advert and genuine content can be confusing.
In the current study, the researchers examined the responses of 176 children to images on social media. The children were split into three groups and shown either picture of the social media personalities promoting unhealthy snacks, healthy foods or non-food products. The social media stars included in the study were Zoella, who has 10.9 million followers on Instagram, and her boyfriend Alfie Deyes, who has 4.6 million, the BBC report added. The children were then given a range of healthy and unhealthy snacks, including grapes, carrot sticks, chocolate buttons or jelly sweets. Read – Samosa vs burger: Which is less unhealthy?
The results showed that children who had seen the unhealthy images consumed an average of 448 calories, while the others ate just 357 – which is a difference of 26 percent.
“Children consider vloggers to be ‘everyday people’ just like their peers. They’ve earned a position of trust among young people and there has to be some responsibility along the line,” Dr Emma Boyland, one of the researchers from the University of Liverpool, said.
The research suggested that children be protected from the marketing of junk food, not only on TV but also online where they are increasingly spending time.
“On TV there are more cues as to when it’s advertising – there’s an advert break, there’s a jingle – whereas digitally it’s a lot more embedded in the rest of the content,” Dr Boyland added.
“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,” Anna Coates, the lead researcher on the study, said.