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Social Media May Sway Kids to Eat More Junk

Pictures speak loudly when video influencers scoop up sweets.

Any child active on social media is likely following one or more so-called influencers, and if those influencers are fans of chips and cookies, parents trying to persuade their kids to eat more veggies could be facing another hurdle.

Children who saw mock Instagram images of popular YouTube video bloggers in the presence of junk food consumed 32% more calories afterward from nutritionally poor cookies or candy compared with those who saw pictures of influencers with nonfood items, according to a British study in Pediatrics. The findings, based on data involving 176 youths aged 9–11, showed that eating choices among those who saw vloggers with healthy snacks like fruit were the same as those who witnessed influencers without food items.

So, unfortunately, extra exposure to more nutritious foods did not influence kids to eat more of those options. But the extra calories consumed by kids exposed to more junk food images could add up to unhealthy amounts of weight gain—and 1 in every 5 American youth ages 6–19 is already struggling with obesity. Parents need to be aware that it is not just junk food ads on TV but also online marketing by social media stars that can strongly influence what their kids want to eat.

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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