Research into food marketing to teens via social media

Nov 26 2020

Researchers from HMRI and the University of Newcastle are looking to recruit teenagers for an Australian first, two-nation study, into what food marketing teenagers are exposed to on their social media.

Daphne van der Bend is a PhD student doing a dual doctorate with the University of Newcastle and Wageningen University in her homeland of The Netherlands. She plans to carry out the same study in the Netherlands to compare between countries.

Ms van der Bend said there is a lot of research on the prevalence and impact of food marketing that young people are exposed to via traditional media, but little is known about how food advertisements are embedded in social media content.

She said there is a large body of evidence that food marketing to children via traditional media channels, such as television, predominantly promotes energy-dense nutrient-poor foods and beverages that lead to poorer diet quality due to increased consumption of these products.

“Developing strategies to help teens optimise diet quality helps to improve body composition, promote good mental health and reduces risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers,” Ms van der Bend said.

“There’s no data on the type and amount of food marketing content Australian teenagers are exposed to on their social media,” she said.

“A recent Canadian study found adolescents 12 to 16 years view more than 9,000 social media food marketing instances annually. Recent international data shows that the majority of food marketing on social media apps promotes energy-dense nutrient-poor foods and that fast food, snack and sugary drink brands are followed by millions of adolescents.”

“Parents don’t always get to see their kids’ social media feeds, so they don’t know what food marketing they are being exposed to – unlike radio, TV or billboard advertising.”

Ms van der Bend said her research survey is online, making it COVID-safe and simple to participate. She said participating in the research may also help participants become more aware of food marketing on social media.

Participants need to be aged 13-16 years old and active on at least one social media platform at least once a week and have parental consent. They will receive a $30 Kmart Gift Card after participation. Initially, participating teenagers will complete a 10-minute online survey. They must be willing to show the researcher the feeds of up to three social media platforms they are active on, via a shared screen during an interview over ZOOM. The findings will be de-identified.

To register for the study or for more information email or visit the study here

* HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.