New Studies Show Social Media Food Advertising of Unhealthy Foods and Fast Food Portion Size Increase Health Risks

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Two recent articles show how food company practices contribute to unhealthy eating and  high rates of obesity and diet-related diseases.  The firs article  in Pediatrics conducted an experiment to examine the impact of social media influencer marketing of healthy and unhealthy foods on children’s food intake.  

The study found that children after viewing social media influencers consuming unhealthy snacks , children significantly increased overall intake of calories and of unhealthy snacks specifically compared with children who viewed influencers with nonfood products. Viewing influencers with healthy snacks did not significantly affect intake.

The authors conclude that popular social media influencer promotion of food affects children’s food intake. Influencer marketing of unhealthy foods increased children’s immediate food intake, whereas the equivalent marketing of healthy foods had no effect. Increasing the promotion of healthy foods on social media may not be an effective strategy to encourage healthy dietary behaviors in children.

A forthcoming article in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics compared changes over time across menu categories such as entrées, sides, and desserts in fast-food menu items over 30 years.  US national survey data shows fast food accounted for 11% of daily caloric intake in 2007-2010. Fast-food entrées, sides, and dessert menu item data for 1986, 1991, and 2016 were compiled from primary and secondary sources for 10 popular fast-food restaurants.

The authors found that from 1986 to 2016, the number of entrées, sides, and desserts for all restaurants combined increased by 226%. Portion sizes of entrées and desserts, but not sides, increased significantly, and the energy and sodium of items in all three menu categories increased significantly. Desserts showed the largest increase in energy, and entrées had the largest increase in sodium. Calcium increased significantly in entrées and to a greater extent in desserts, but not sides, and iron increased significantly only in desserts.

The authors concluded that these results demonstrate broadly detrimental changes in fast-food restaurant offerings over a 30-year span including increasing variety, portion size, energy, and sodium content. Research is needed to identify effective strategies that may help consumers reduce energy intake from fast-food restaurants as part of measures to improve dietary-related health issues in the United States.

Citations:  Coates AE, Hardman CA, Halford JCG, Christiansen P, Boyland EJ.  Social Media Influencer Marketing and Children’s Food Intake: A Randomized TrialPediatrics. 2019 Mar 4. pii: e20182554.

McCrory MA, Harbaugh AG, Appeadu S, Roberts SB. Fast-Food Offerings in the United States in 1986, 1991, and 2016 Show Large Increases in Food Variety, Portion Size, Dietary Energy, and Selected Micronutrients. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and DieteticsDOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2018.12.004

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