Researchers at NYU School of Global Public Health and NYU Grossman School of Medicine have warned against the dangers of child influencers promoting unhealthy food and drinks on their YouTube channels
Marie Bragg, assistant professor of public health nutrition at NYU School of Global Public Health and assistant professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone, alongside her colleagues, analysed data to find the most-watched YouTube videos from child influencers and found that 42.8% promoted unhealthy food and drink.
More than 90% of the products shown were unhealthy branded food, drinks, or fast food toys, with fast food as the most frequently featured junk food, followed by candy and soda and were viewed more than 1 billion times.
“Kids already see several thousand food commercials on television every year, and adding these YouTube videos on top of it may make it even more difficult for parents and children to maintain a healthy diet,” said Bragg. “We need a digital media environment that supports healthy eating instead of discouraging it.
“It was concerning to see that kid influencers are promoting a high volume of junk food in their YouTube videos, and that those videos are generating enormous amounts of screen time for these unhealthy products.”
Millions of parents turn to videos of “kid influencers” as a source of entertainment for their child and companies have taken advantage of the marketing opportunities available. Advertisers use the platform to promote their products before or during videos and even pay influencers to feature the products in their videos. In fact, the highest-paid YouTube influencer of the past two years earned $26 million last year and was only 8-years-old.
“Parents may not realise that kid influencers are often paid by food companies to promote unhealthy food and beverages in their videos. Our study is the first to quantify the extent to which junk food product placements appear in YouTube videos from kid influencers.
“It’s a perfect storm for encouraging poor nutrition – research shows that people trust influencers because they appear to be ‘everyday people,’ and when you see these kid influencers eating certain foods, it doesn’t necessarily look like advertising. But it is advertising, and numerous studies have shown that children who see food ads consume more calories than children who see non-food ads, which is why the National Academy of Medicine and World Health Organization identify food marketing as a major driver of childhood obesity.
“The allure of YouTube may be especially strong in 2020 as many parents are working remotely and have to juggle the challenging task of having young kids at home because of COVID-19”, added Bragg.
Study co-author Jennifer Pomeranz, assistant professor of public health policy and management at NYU School of Global Public Health, concluded: “We hope that the results of this study encourage the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general to focus on this issue and identify strategies to protect children and public health.”