Junk foods are not good for developing brains and bodies but if your child appears to love eating too much junk food, the social networking site Facebook may be to blame.

Researchers from the University of Sydney in Australia found that social media websites contribute significantly to the marketing of junk foods to teenagers. Findings of their study, which was published in the American Journal of Public Health, suggests that energy-dense, nutrient-poor (EDNP) brands tap on Facebook to market unhealthy food products that are known to contribute to the increasing prevalence of obesity and lifestyle diseases.

For the study, the researchers analyzed the Facebook pages of 27 food and beverage brands including those of Coca-Cola, Subway, Slurpee and Maltesers, evaluating their marketing techniques, engagement with followers and marketing messages.

The researchers found that the food and beverage companies that market unhealthy food had high levels of engagement particularly from teenagers and young adults on Facebook. They also noted that young Facebook users with high levels of engagement with these food companies increasingly share these companies' content on social media.

Study researcher Becky Freeman, from the University of Sydney's School of Public Health, said that young Facebook users willingly spread the marketing messages of food and beverage companies even with little or no incentives and reward, a behavior that helps spread the marketing messages of these companies across social networks.

"By using the interactive and social aspects of Facebook to market products, EDNP food brands capitalize on users' social networks and magnify the reach and personal relevance of their marketing messages," Freeman and colleagues wrote.

The researchers said that their study reveals that the marketing of unhealthy food and beverage is prolific and well-integrated within social networks with adolescents and young people engaging with companies selling unhealthy food and beverages on a near-daily basis.

Effective marketing could eventually win customers and the kind of marketing employed by food and beverage companies that market unhealthy products appear to be effective and easily reach young audiences.

Freeman raised concern as sweetened beverages and junk food are known to contribute to the rising incidence of obesity, which is also associated with lifestyle diseases that include diabetes and heart diseases.

"Given the exponential growth in use of social media websites such as Facebook among young people, there is a need to understand the techniques and reach of this kind of marketing on these sites," Freeman said.

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