Social media could influence your kids' food choices

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

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POPULAR social media influencers' promotion of food affects children's food intake, and this revelation could help parents better monitor both, especially in light of the rise in kids from tots to teens heavily using social media. The results of a study to examine the impact of social media influencers' marketing of foods (healthy and unhealthy) on children's food intake showed that influencer marketing of unhealthy foods increased children's immediate food intake, whereas the equivalent marketing of healthy foods had no effect. It concluded that increasing the promotion of healthy foods on social media may not be an effective strategy to encourage healthy dietary behaviours in children.

One hundred and seventy six children (9-11 years) were recruited via schools in the United Kingdom. Participants were offered no incentive for taking part. This age group is active on social media despite platform terms and conditions setting age of participation at 13 years. They were randomly assigned to view mock Instagram profiles of two popular YouTube video bloggers (influencers). Profiles featured images of the influencers with unhealthy snacks, healthy snacks, or non-food products. Subsequently, participants' ad libitum (at their pleasure) intake of unhealthy snacks, healthy snacks, and overall intake (combined intake of healthy and unhealthy snacks) were measured.

The results showed that children who viewed influencers with unhealthy snacks had significantly increased overall intake and significantly increased intake of unhealthy snacks specifically, compared with children who viewed influencers with non-food products. Viewing influencers with healthy snacks did not significantly affect intake.

The study, Social Media Influencer Marketing and Children's Food Intake: A Randomized Trial, was conducted by Anna E Coates et al and was published in the journal Pediatrics.

“Studies have revealed that broadcast food advertising strongly influences children's eating behaviour. The Internet is now well established as a food-marketing platform, and young people spend considerable time on social media, including engaging with the activity of influencers,” said the publication.

“Acute experimental exposure to influencers promoting unhealthy foods on social media increases children's immediate intake of unhealthy foods, but the same influencers promoting healthy foods does not have a beneficial effect on children's choices or intake of those foods.”

Want to know how to introduce healthy meal options? Here are a few tips from Dr Michelle Williams, paediatrician.

1. It is important to make time in the morning to eat breakfast, as skipping breakfast is not a good idea. Eating breakfast allows children to concentrate better and prevents them from tiring easily throughout the day.

2. The best way for your child to get a healthy lunch is for you to pack their food. If you have decided that your child will get food from the school, try to get information of the school's daily menu and supplement it with healthy snacks.

3. Get your child involved in the packing of lunch. Children who assist in packing their lunch are more likely to eat it. Ask them to make a list of the things they like, but ensure to make healthy choices from their list.

4. It is recommended that children ages one to six have a limit of four to six ounces of juice per day and children age seven to18 have a limit of eight to 12 ounces per day. Avoid sodas and encourage drinking water mostly for the day.

5. Children should have five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables per day. This can make their immune system stronger and leads to fewer sick days. A good way to include them is to give fruits and vegetables as snacks. Avoid snacks with excess fat and salt.

6. Ensure your child eats from at least four of the food groups each day.

7. For children who are considered 'picky eaters', try to make eating fun. Try to get a nice lunch bag. Prepare food with various colours. Do not reward with sweets or desserts as this will encourage bad habits. Be patient, as children usually eat in small amounts frequently. They also have to get used to the taste and texture of new food, so keep trying.

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