Popular YouTube channels with kid influencers are promoting unhealthy foods - with lots of views

  • Media influencers often endorse products in their videos
  • Junk food and unhealthy drinks are some of the products being promoted
  • An alarming number of videos involving 'kid influencers' are promoting unhealthy foods 

Lockdown regulations led to bored children, who ended up spending more time online, on social media and watching TV. 

With an almost endless variety of content, YouTube was the saving grace for many parents when it came to keeping children occupied during this period. 

According to a paper published in Frontiers in Psychology, “YouTube offers new possibilities for brands to engage with children and their parents, including embedded advertising formats containing subtle brand integrations in entertaining media content, making them less intrusive, and thus harder to recognise.” The vehicle for this embedded advertising often comes in the form of social media influencers.

Previous studies have defined social media influencers (SMI) as being “independent third party endorsers” who shape the attitudes of their audiences through their posts or videos on social media. Although many influencers are adults, the number of child influencers is growing rapidly, and advertisers see influencers as an opportunity to market products.

Researchers at NYU School of Global Public Health and NYU Grossman School of Medicine noticed a trend of fast food being promoted by child-influencers in their videos. They embarked on a study to see just how big this trend is by observing videos posted by child influencers.

The study

The study aimed to see how many child-influencers promote branded or unbranded food and drinks in their videos. Researchers identified five of the most-watched child-influencers between the ages of three to 14 years old.

The 50 most-watched videos with these kid influencers were identified, and researchers observed whether they featured the consumption of food and drink or playing with toys. The nutritional quality of the featured foods and drinks were assessed, and the length of time they featured was also observed.

Results

A total of 418 videos met the criteria for the study, and 179 of these featured food and/or drinks. Most of the foods and/or drinks that were featured in the videos were unhealthy foods with 90.34% branded as unhealthy (e.g. McDonald's), and 4.1% were unbranded unhealthy foods (such as hotdogs).

This means only 7.2% of the foods featured in the videos were healthy. These videos were collectively viewed a staggering one billion times.

Researchers expressed their concern that such a high volume of junk food was being promoted by child influencers. The study concluded by stating that “kid influencers generate millions of impressions for unhealthy food and drink brands through product placement. The Federal Trade Commission should strengthen regulations regarding product placement on YouTube videos featuring young children."

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