Many YouTube influencers compel viewers especially children to consume sugary beverages and junk food as a part of their marketing agreements and partnerships with companies. They earn billions of dollars for endorsing these brands but indirectly they are adding up to increased health risks among children. A new study published in the journal Paediatrics analyses how advertising agencies are trying to make gains by utilizing new avenues and marketing their goods to children.
Marie Bragg from the New York University College of Public Global Health is the first author of this study. According to her, the videos by YouTube influencers should be approached with skepticism even if the videos are kid-friendly or educational.
The research team studied videos posted on the YouTube website by young YouTube influencers aged between 3 and 14 during the year 2019. They found that either these influencers were consuming food or playing with toys in the videos. They specifically watched 418 of the videos which fell in the criteria of their study and found that in nearly 179 videos food or drink was featured and 90% of those foods were unhealthy, such as fast foods. And to their surprise, those videos got more than a billion views.
According to past research, it is essential to keep tabs on the types of food advertisements that the children are frequently exposed to as eating habits at a young age can have a big impact on the children getting illnesses in the future such as type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular diseases, or on the children getting obese.
In the past, much of the advertisement was done through television but now companies are targeting audiences on YouTube and other social media sites. Bragg said that kids are usually glued to the channels of these young YouTube influencers, who are often seen promoting products on their videos directly.
One of the most popular trends on YouTube nowadays in which junk food can be featured is unboxing videos. In these videos, the YouTube influencers review products by opening the boxes but in reality, they are advertising them. One such YouTube channel is called Ryan’s World which has 26 million followers and is one of the channels the researchers studied. This channel mainly featured a young boy who unboxes new toys and plays with them but now the channel has also started advertising food.
The executive director of a campaign for a commercial-free childhood Josh Golin said that the kids should not be allowed to watch unboxing videos or other videos of the kind. He added that young kids watching the videos think that the influencer in the video is their friend or relative and also they don’t have the maturity to understand that YouTube influencers like Ryan are so excited about those products because they are stealthily marketing them.
Research shows that these videos make the young kids more likely to pressure their parents or guardians for the product shown in the videos and go mad if the parents decline, as compared to if they are exposed to tv commercials.
Lead author of American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on digital advertising to children Dr. Jenny Radesky said that the exposure of children to junk food, beverage, and any other content for that matter on YouTube should be regulated. Radesky who was not a part of the study also said that ‘Host-selling’, in which one of the main characters of the video is advertising products in his own video, needs to be banned on YouTube as it is also not allowed on television.