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Researcher Finds Link Between Increased Calorie Intake In Children And Social Media Use

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Social media influencers who market junk foods to their audiences might be causing children to consume more calories per day, according to a new study.

Investigation Of How Social Media Use Affect Children's Diets

More young children are going online and get exposed to marketing. In the United Kingdom, a previous study by Ofcom revealed that approximately 93 percent of children ages 8 to 11 go online to use YouTube (77 percent) or to peruse their social media account (18 percent).

By the time they reach the age of 12, 99 percent would go online to watch videos on YouTube (89 percent) or connect with friends via social media (69 percent). Many children from both age groups follow vloggers(video bloggers) on YouTube.

To probe how marketing through digital avenues, particularly on YouTube, a team of researchers from the New University of Liverpool conducted a study involving 176 children from ages 9 to 11.

The participants were divided into three groups and show photos from real videos posted by popular vloggers on YouTube. One group was shown with photos of vloggers holding non-food products. Another group was shown vloggers consuming healthy snacks such as fruits and vegetables. The third group was shown eating junk food, including chocolate bars, chocolate biscuits, and cookies.

The researchers then took note of every participant's food intake following the experiment.

Social Media Influencers Influence Their Young Audience

In the paper published in the journal Pediatrics, the researchers discussed that the young participants in the group that was presented with images of vloggers consuming unhealthy foods consumed 32 percent more kcals compared to those who saw images of vloggers holding non-food items. Meanwhile, children in the groups that were shown images of vloggers who eat healthy and unhealthy snacks consumed 26 percent more kcals compared to the group that was shown images of vloggers with non-food items.

These findings suggest that the marketing of unhealthy foods, via vloggers' Instagram pages, increases children's immediate energy intake," said Anna Coates, a Ph.D. student and an author of the study. She noted that their findings are supported by previous research that suggests how celebrity endorsements increase children's consumption of unhealthy food.

"Young people trust vloggers more than celebrities so their endorsements may be even more impactful and exploitative," she added.

Coates is calling for tighter restrictions around the marketing of unhealthy snacks on digital channels. YouTube vloggers, in particular, should not be permitted to endorse junk food to their young audience, she stated.

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