Kid influencers promoting junk food brands on YouTube

November 1, 2020 in Healthy Eating, Nutrition for Children and Teenagers, Nutrition Topics in the News

Kid influencers promoting junk food brands on YouTube

Kids with wildly popular YouTube channels are frequently promoting unhealthy food and drinks in their videos, warn researchers from New York University.

Food and beverage companies spend $1.8 billion dollars a year marketing their products to young people. Although television advertising is a major source of food marketing, companies have dramatically increased online advertising in response to consumers' growing social media use.

Kids see several thousand food commercials on television every year, and adding YouTube videos on top of it may make it even more difficult for parents and children to maintain a healthy diet, said experts. A  digital media environment that supports healthy eating is needed.

YouTube is the second most visited website in the world and is a popular destination for kids seeking entertainment. More than 80 percent of parents with a child younger than 12 years old allow their child to watch YouTube, and 35 percent of parents report that their kid watches YouTube regularly.

When finding videos for young children to watch, millions of parents turn to videos of "kid influencers," or children whose parents film them doing activities such as science experiments, playing with toys, or celebrating their birthdays.

The growing popularity of these YouTube videos have caught the attention of companies, who advertise or sponsor posts to promote their products before or during videos. In fact, the highest-paid YouTube influencer of the past two years was an 8-year-old who earned $26 million last year.

Parents may not realize 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.

About the study

The research team identified the five most popular kid influencers on YouTube of 2019, whose ages ranged from 3 to 14 years old, and analyzed their most-watched videos. Focusing on a sample of 418 YouTube videos, they recorded whether food or drinks were shown in the videos, what items and brands were shown, and assessed their nutritional quality.

The team found that nearly half of the most-popular videos from kid influencers (42.8 percent) promoted food and drinks. More than 90 percent 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.

Only a few videos featured unhealthy unbranded items like hot dogs (4 percent), healthy unbranded items like fruit (3 percent), and healthy branded items like yogurt brands (2 percent).

The videos featuring junk food product placements were viewed more than 1 billion times--a staggering level of exposure for food and beverage companies.

While the researchers do not know which food and drink product placements were paid endorsements, they find these videos problematic for public health because they enable food companies to directly--but subtly--promote unhealthy foods to young children and their parents. 

The researchers encourage federal and state regulators to strengthen and enforce regulations of junk food advertising by kid influencers. 

Source: Pediatrics, October 2020.

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.