Does social media influence your kids’ food choices?

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Every parent expects that, at some point, their child will ask for a food item they saw advertised online or on TV.

But, a recent study aims to find out how much impact social media could have on a child’s food choices.

The study looked at 176 children between the ages of 9-11.

Children were randomly assigned to view different profiles of social media influencers with healthy snacks, unhealthy snacks or non-food products.

Researchers found that the kids who viewed social media posts with unhealthy snacks ate more calories and had significantly increased intake of unhealthy foods than the children who viewed the healthy snacks or the non-food items.

However, the children who viewed healthy snacks were not compelled to eat more healthy foods.

Kate Eshleman, PsyD, of Cleveland Clinic Children’s did not take part in the study but said it probably comes as no surprise that advertisements are very persuasive to children.

“The advertisements have a lot of impact on the kids,” she said. “They see it and they want it, and parents have to be prepared to limit those things in the home.” 

Dr. Eshleman said avoiding the pitfalls of social media marketing comes down to communicating with children about healthy choices and which food items should be in the home and which ones should not.

She said parents should always know what their children are watching, so they can talk about the content they are viewing.

“In general, it’s always very important for parents to know what their kids are watching – and that includes the ads,” said Dr. Eshleman. “You want to know why a child is asking about this, or why they’re talking about this, and the best way to understand those things is to be aware of what they’re watching.” 

Dr. Eshleman said the study results don’t mean parents should not allow their children to view content online, but she recommends making sure they are watching it in plain view – on a computer that you can see, or on television – but not on a hand-held device.

Complete results of the study can be found in Pediatrics.
 

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