Social media may cause kids to eat more calories, study says

Previous research has proven social media can impact our mental health. It may even affect our food selections, according to a new report. 

» RELATED: Study: Instagram is the worst social media network for mental health

Scientists from the University of Liverpool’s Appetite and Obesity group recently conducted a study, published in the Pediatrics journal, to explore how food marketing sways children’s food choices. 

To do so, they examined 176 kids aged 9 to 11 and showed them one of three artificially created Instagram profiles. One group was shown a profile featuring a YouTube influencer with unhealthy snacks, another group was shown the influencer with healthy foods and the final group was shown the influencer with no food products.

The participants were then offered several food choices, including unhealthy snacks like candy and healthy ones like grapes and carrots.

After analyzing the results, they found children who watched the influencer with unhealthy foods consumed 32 percent more calories from unhealthy snacks and 26 percent more total calories, compared to those who viewed the influencer with non-food products. 

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The outcome was not the same for those who saw an influencer with healthy foods.  Kids in that group ate no more carrots or grapes than those who saw non-food images. 

“This study quantifies the impact of influencer food marketing on children’s food intake. The results demonstrated that children exposed to marketing of unhealthy snacks increased their immediate overall kcal (kilocalorie) intake compared with children exposed to healthy food or nonfood marketing,” the team said in the study.

The authors noted some limitations. They acknowledged the children had only been exposed to two influencers. They also said they weren’t sure if the kids talked about the study with their classmates even though they were asked not to.

However, they still believe their findings are strong and hope more investigation is done.

“More research is needed to understand the impact of digital food marketing and inform appropriate policy action,” the team concluded. “The findings of the current study may be used to inform the debates ongoing in many countries surrounding food-marketing policies for digital media.” 

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