Children’s Social Media Consumption and Eating Behavior

With the advancements in technology and the introduction of high-speed internet, our societies have been facing a whole new set of issues and concerns especially when it comes to the role and impact of social media on the development and health of our children.  Pediatricians should educate parents about the influence of social media on their children’s eating habits and share resources to counteract the effects of unhealthy foods digital marketing.

A decade ago I never thought I would have to include restricted social media use and modified Facebook or YouTube home content as part of my diet plan. Nowadays, our exposure to social media influencers significantly impacts our subconscious decisions even when it comes to snack choices. This is also true for our young children and adolescents.

Is it true that our children are following social media influencers when it comes to food consumption.? And is social media contributing to the obesity epidemic?

A randomized trial study published in Pediatrics by Anna E. Coates et al. included 176 children between 9 and 11 years old.  The children were assigned to view mock Instagram profiles of two popular YouTube vloggers and influencers promoting healthy or unhealthy snacks or nonfood products.  The results of this study indicated that children who viewed unhealthy snacks content had a statistically significant increase in food intake compared to those who viewed the influencers promoting healthy snacks. Thus, the study concluded that marketing of unhealthy foods through social media influencers increased children’s food intake of 26% more kilocalories compared to children who viewed healthy food behavior.

With childhood obesity remaining a major health epidemic, it is crucial for pediatricians to recognize the impact of digital marketing on the health and eating behavior of children exposed to thousands and thousands of social media influencers on a daily basis. Methods for restricting social media food marketing content should be implemented to protect the health of the new generation of children and adolescents.

Parents can be advised to have a family media use framework to control the content of social media that their children view. Parents should start the conversation early about social media influence with their children, explaining the risks of the promoted unhealthy foods on their children’s health.

Sonia Allouch, MD

References:

  • AAP COUNCIL ON COMMUNICATIONS AND MEDIA.  Media and Young Minds. Pediatrics. 2016;138(5):e20162591

https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/138/5/e20162591

  • Coates AE, Hardman CA, Halford JCG, et al. Social Media Influencer Marketing and Children’s Food Intake: A Randomized Trial. Pediatrics. 2019;143(4):e20182554

https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/143/4/e20182554.full.pdf

  • Coyne S, Radesky J, Collier KM, Gentile DA, Ruh Linder J, Nathanson AI, Rasmussen EE, Reich SM, Rogers J.  Parenting and Digital Media. Pediatrics 2017;140;S112

https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/140/Supplement_2/S112

  • Robinson TN, Banda JA, Hale L, Shirong Lu A, Fleming-Milici F, Calvert SL, Wartella E.

Screen Media Exposure and Obesity in Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics 2017;140;S97

https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/140/Supplement_2/S97

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