Influencers, nutrition and high calorie intake in children

Many children say that they trust their opinions and recommendations much more influencer compared to a TV ad, which is why vloggers are often paid by certain brands to have their products displayed on social media.


Advertising The global increases in childhood obesity are also generated by excessive marketing of unhealthy foods, especially to children, among other causes. Several studies show the strong impact that the marketing of foods high in saturated fat, salt and / or sugar (HFSS) has on children’s health and nutrition (Norman et al., 2016). Although traditional television advertising has been thoroughly explored, the types of digital food marketing children may be exposed to and how this may affect their behavior are still poorly studied. Digital media is actually very common even among the youngest, and some studies have shown that the internet sites most visited by children are almost never specific to a children’s audience, but rather platforms that attract a wide range of ages, such as social network. (Ofcom, 2017).

The credibility that children attribute to influencers

In fact, it often happens that even though some social platforms only allow members over the age of 13 to sign up, these rules are not respected and even children have easy access to them. For example, 80% of children aged 5-15 in the UK regularly use YouTube. On this channel, several video bloggers (vloggers) have achieved great success, so much so that they have been defined influencer for their persuasive abilities in public. Many children say that they trust their opinions and recommendations much more influencer compared to a TV ad, which is why vloggers are often paid by certain brands to have their products displayed on social media. This also happens for food; in fact, a study showed that some vlogger posts on Instagram where HFSS foods (foods composed of high fat, sugar and sodium) appeared greatly increased the consumption of the latter in children aged 9 and 11 years (Coates et al. , 2019).

A possible explanation for the reasons why this happens can be given by the social learning theory (Bandura, 2001), according to which children like a character increases the likelihood that they will imitate his actions. Among the studies that show that sponsorships know influencer increase HFSS food intake and preferences, one of Boyland and colleagues (2013) examined the effects of children’s exposure to a celebrity TV commercial on an HFSS food. The results show that the children consumed significantly more food from the brand sponsored by well-known supporters than the alternative brand.

Advertising The food cue responsiveness model, which is incorporated in advertising, claims that the level of processing affects the effect of exposure to cues (Folkvord, 2016). This implies that while TV commercials have a dedicated interval between one program and another, digital marketing is embedded in an online content; many of the food words that appear in media content therefore require minimal cognitive processing, which does not allow children to recognize when exposed to an advertisement and makes it more difficult to resist these types of marketing (Freeman and Chapman, 2007). Non-TV marketing must therefore comply with some self-regulatory codes, which provide an obligation to clearly state the commercial intent through some acronyms, including “#ad”, which must be displayed on the screen or in the title of a content shared by -en influencer.

Influencer, marketing and nutrition

Another factor that can affect the effect of marketing is knowledge of persuasion, that is, consumers’ understanding of the attempts at marketing persuasion; some studies show that the more knowledge increases, the more the effects of persuasion diminish and can be counteracted (Wright et al., 2005). However, this knowledge develops in adolescence, so it is possible that it does not affect children’s cognitive or affective reactions in relation to a promoted brand. The defense model of food marketing (Harris et al., 2009) states that four conditions must be met for children to counter the effects of marketing: awareness of advertising, understanding its persuasive intent, ability and motivation to resist. Therefore, to resist the effects of food persuasion, children need to be motivated to do so: When they almost never have health concerns and are prone to make food choices based on taste, they may not be motivated to resist HFSS digital food marketing, even when aware. . (Bruce et al., 2016).

Research conducted by Coates and colleagues from 2019 aimed to investigate whether exposure to a YouTube video with a influencer of an unhealthy snack affected children’s intake of the snack, and whether the inclusion of an advertising statement moderated this effect. 151 children (aged 9 to 11) were exposed to a video of one influencer with or without a promotional statement for a non-food product, the same thing happened with a food: an unhealthy snack. The intake of the commercialized snack was then compared with the intake of an alternative brand of the same snack. The results show that children exposed to food marketing with or without advertising consumed more (kcal) of the marketed snack than the alternative. However, children who saw food marketing with an ad (and not those without) consumed 41% more than the marketed snack. These results may be due to the fact that, as the food marketing model says, it is not enough for children to recognize advertisements to defend themselves against the effects of influenza, but motivation and the ability to resist are also necessary (Harris et al., 2009).

Recommended by the editors


  • Bandura, A. (2001). Social Cognitive Theory: An Agent Perspective. Annual Review of Psychology, 52 (1), 1-26.
  • Boyland, EJ, Harrold, JA, Dovey, TM, Allison, M., Dobson, S., Jacobs, MC, & Halford, JC (2013). Food choice and overconsumption: effect of a premium sports celebrity that supports. The Journal of Pediatrics, 163 (2), 339-343.
  • Bruce, AS, Pruitt, SW, Ha, OR, Cherry, JBC, Smith, TR, Bruce, JM, & Lim, SL (2016). The impact of TV commercials on children’s food choices: evidence from ventromedial prefrontal cortex activations. The Journal of Pediatrics, 177, 27-32.
  • Coates, AE, Hardman, CA, Halford, JCG, Christiansen, P., & Boyland, EJ (2019). The effect of influencer marketing of food and a “protective” advertising disclosure on children’s food intake. Pediatric Obesity, 14 (10), e12540.
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