Junk food advertising online
- On September 8, 2021
- NSW Doctor, September/October 2021
Junk food advertising online
New research reveals junk food advertisers are bombarding kids with unhealthy food promotions online.
NEW RESEARCH from the University of Wollongong has found that kids are exposed to more than more than 17 food and drink promotions for every hour they are online – almost nine times higher than their exposure to marketing via television advertising.
Over a week, children were exposed to an average of 168 online food and drink promotions, contrasted with an average of 19 a week when watching television.
Associate Professor Bridget Kelly, the lead researcher on the study, said food and drinks are being marketed to kids via social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and YouTube. Food and drink producers are promoting their products to young audiences through online social networks, with brands seemingly endorsed by peers or online communities, A/Prof Kelly said.
“Probably the most disturbing part is most is not what we would call traditional advertising. A lot of promotions were actually shared through online through meme pages or influencers, so young people don’t necessarily have their guards up.”
This type of marketing gives kids the impression that products are endorsed by peers and online communities. According to A/Prof Kelly, brands are tapping into networks of online followers and leveraging off influencers social cache – heightening the effects of marketing.
“This marketing normalises unhealthy foods, creates positive brand images, and encourages overconsumption.”
The study looked at nearly 100 children between ages 13 to 17 and surveyed their exposure to food and beverage marketing while using their mobile devices across a three-day period.
A/Prof Kelly, who is based in UOW’s School of Health and Society, said the food and drinks that are marketed online are almost exclusively high in salt, fat and sugar.
According to the research, the rate of promotions for unhealthy food and beverages was 50 times higher than the rate of promotions for healthier products.
This kind of marketing does influence kids’ eating behaviours. In previous studies conducted by A/Prof Kelly, children that viewed unhealthy food advertising were found to eat more following exposure.
Government policy has failed to keep pace with the digital world, and online data analytics has allowed advertisers to target kids using personal data, A/Prof Kelly said.
“The digital world is outstripping current legislation and policy to protect young people from inappropriate marketing.
“Policies needs to protect children from unhealthy food marketing through paid advertising and paid content in posts generated through online communities, influencers and celebrities.”
According to A/Prof Kelly, there is good precedent overseas. The UK announced that by 2022, they will strengthen TV advertising restrictions and introduce a ban on unhealthy food marketing online to children. A/Prof Kelly said industry is also pre-empting these kinds of restrictions by introducing their own policies.