Are TikTok Challenges Leading Kids to Eat More Junky Food?

Marketing strategies for extremely processed foods and non-alcoholic consume makes on TikTok deliver billions of views, major to a staggering functionality to interact and affect young children, according to an observational research.

Looking at TikTok posts from the leading 16 “harmful” food stuff and consume makes based mostly on worldwide model share, a solitary hashtag challenge marketing campaign — which encourages TikTok consumers to publish video clips touting a distinct solution — produced any where from 12.7 million to 107.9 billion views, claimed Kathryn Backholer, PhD, of the World wide Weight problems Centre at Deakin College in Geelong, Australia, and colleagues in BMJ International Overall health.

“By encouraging TikTok consumers to generate and share video clips featuring food stuff company branding and solutions, junk food businesses are correctly turning TikTok people into marketing producers and distributors,” Backholer instructed MedPage Today in an electronic mail. “Though junk foodstuff firms gain from this promoting, people obtain minor to no reward and expose other end users to even much more junk foodstuff advertising and marketing.”

Among the a sample of 626 model-connected movie posts established by customers, 96% highlighted product branding, 68% integrated item photos, and 41% highlighted branded effects, which include stickers, filters, or specific outcomes showcasing the model.

Most (73%) portrayed the manufacturer positively, even though 25% had been much more neutral or unclear. Only 3% portrayed the manufacturer in a destructive light.

This promoting achieve, dependent mainly on “unofficial manufacturer ambassadors” has the possible to affect younger users, in accordance to Backholer and colleagues. TikTok, which had around 1 billion regular monthly end users as of September 2021, supplies models with a system to interact with an specifically youthful audience, as “over a 3rd of its daily customers in the Usa are reportedly aged 14 or more youthful,” the authors famous.

“The proof is really apparent that food advertising increases kids’ tastes and usage for unhealthy food items, in the end top to excess weight attain and being overweight,” Backholer reported in her electronic mail. “The bigger the get to of these marketing and advertising campaigns, the extra embedded junk foodstuff marketing results in being in our children’s day to day life. We will need to place well being right before income and supply our little ones with an on-line surroundings that is cost-free from the marketing and advertising of unsafe products and solutions.”

The crucial to this marketing and advertising approach is that TikTok lets brand names to directly inspire its users to produce social media posts that sector the brands’ information for them, she noted. These strategies are “extremely orchestrated” to push consumers to produce brand name-marketing videos that often feature the company’s solutions and logos, which permits for the brands to be a lot more positively considered by a user’s peers, she extra.

These promoting techniques are an evolution of manufacturer advertising, claimed David Jernigan, PhD, of the Boston College School of General public Well being, who has examined very similar developments in alcohol model advertising and marketing. He pointed out that social media has made a new platform for internet marketing approaches.

“The hashtag troubles, they are extremely powerful at stimulating engagement, and that’s what this study is demonstrating,” Jernigan instructed MedPage Today. “Some kinds of engagement are more dangerous to the well being of younger people than some others.”

The conclude final result of these strategies is that little ones will adopt an synthetic peer team based mostly on the imagery of the internet marketing — a watch of the brand name that hardly ever exhibits the other facet of consuming the merchandise, these as weight attain, he additional.

“It truly is so distinct from classic advertising and marketing, mainly because these platforms are all about stimulating engagement. Standard advertising and marketing was drive marketing and advertising, the place we are trying to thrust a message out to you and get your notice,” he discussed. “Social media is pull marketing, in which we are trying to pull you in to interact around and about all over again with the marketing and advertising messaging. It is totally various and a lot far more powerful since you’ve acquired an active participant as opposed to a passive 1.”

For medical professionals, this type of marketing and advertising results in a problem in speaking wholesome life style practices, he claimed. Physicians can consider to counteract these marketing strategies by emphasizing the wellness added benefits of not consuming these merchandise and by reminding all clients that just because it is trending on TikTok will not signify that everybody is consuming or ingesting these goods, he advised.

The researchers pointed to a 2019 evaluation demonstrating that “few countries have statutory rules to secure youngsters from unhealthy food stuff marketing and limits on harmful food stuff marketing and advertising on the web are unusual.”

The U.K.’s Health and fitness and Care Invoice would ban “paid-for” online marketing of harmful meals and drinks beginning Jan. 1, 2023 and would also “successfully prohibit in-application advertising and paid out-for advertisements, together with use of influencers, if meals or non-alcoholic drinks that are significant in unwanted fat, sugar and/or salt are current in the advertisement,” they noted.

To identify the achieve of these campaigns, Backholer and crew targeted on TikTok-confirmed accounts from the leading 5 manufacturers in different types, this kind of as candies, snacks, and carbonated beverages, totaling the variety of followers, movie posts, and “likes” as of June 30, 2021. They then coded all video clip posts for branding variety, this kind of as product image, movie star influencer, or branded hashtag problem. At last, they gathered the brand, hashtag, obstacle description, and complete views, as nicely as a sample of user-developed posts for every problem, to analyze the in general attain of the strategies.

Additional analysis into the likely public overall health impact of these advertising and marketing tactics on significant social media web pages are necessary, they mentioned.

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    Michael DePeau-Wilson is a reporter on MedPage Today’s enterprise & investigative staff. He covers psychiatry, very long covid, and infectious diseases, between other applicable U.S. medical news. Stick to


Backholer and one more co-author have been funded as a result of a National Heart Foundation Foreseeable future Chief Fellowship. The other co-authors described no disclosures.