Love & Money: How social-media influencers are making your kids fat

Love & Money is a MarketWatch series looking at how our relationship with money impacts our relationships with significant others, friends and family.

Limiting your children’s Instagram

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 time could help keep them healthier.

Social-media “influencers” can drive kids to consume unhealthy foods, according to a new study in the peer-reviewed journal Pediatrics. But that clout disappears when it comes to their promoting healthy foods, it found.

The researchers, using a sample of 176 U.K. children aged 9 to 11, assigned participants to look at fake Instagram profiles for a 26-year-old female YouTube

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 influencer and a 23-year-old male YouTube influencer, both of whom were among the top 10 vloggers most popular with kids in the U.K. at the time of the experiment. Their profiles showed pictures of the vloggers holding unhealthy snacks (like chocolate cookies), healthy snacks (like fruit) or non-food products. Children were randomly assigned to one of these three conditions.

The kids then received an array of snacks both healthy (carrots and grapes) and unhealthy (chocolate buttons and jelly candy). Those who had seen influencers holding unhealthy snacks consumed 448.3 calories on average, compared to the 357.1 calories eaten by children who had seen non-food images — a 91-calorie difference.

However, seeing influencers promote healthy snacks didn’t significantly move the needle on food intake. “Increasing the promotion of healthy foods on social media may not be an effective strategy to encourage healthy dietary behaviors in children,” the authors wrote.

Neither YouTube or Instagram were immediately available for comment.

Celebrity endorsements of food products can increase kids’ consumption of those items, according to 2013 research in the Journal of Pediatrics. As the authors of the present study noted, “children report viewing influencers to be more trustworthy than traditional celebrities, possibly because of increased feelings of familiarity.”

Meanwhile, our national appetite for junk food doesn’t appear to have abated. For example, the U.S. salty snacks market hit $24 billion in 2017 and is projected to push past $29 billion in 2022, according to a 2018 report by the market-research firm Packaged Facts. Advertisers are plenty capable of peddling these products: Watching commercials for junk food is correlated with higher calorie consumption from foods high in salt, sugar and fat, a U.K. study last year found.

“Children have a right to participate in digital media and a right to protection of health,” the current study’s authors wrote. “Food-marketing restrictions should be applied to new forms of digital marketing, particularly social media, on which vulnerable young people spend a lot of their online time.”


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which owns YouTube, is up 10.8% year to date and Facebook

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which owns Instagram, is up 27.6% year to date, versus a 10% rise for the Dow Jones Industrial Average

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 and 11.4% increase for the S&P 500

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 over the same period.

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