Australian children's exposure to, and engagement with, web-based marketing of food and drink brands: Cross-sectional observational study
Journal of Medical Internet Research
Background: Food is one of the most frequently promoted commodities, and promoted foods are overwhelmingly unhealthy. Marketing normalizes unhealthy foods, creates a positive brand image, and encourages overconsumption. Limited research is available to describe the extent of food marketing to children on web-based media, and measuring actual exposure is challenging. Objective: This study aims to monitor the extent of children’s exposure to web-based media food marketing as an essential step in increasing the accountability of industry and governments to protect children. Methods: Children aged 13-17 years were recruited from October 2018 to March 2019. Children recorded their mobile device screen for 2 weekdays and 1 weekend day any time they visited relevant web-based platforms. After each day, the participants uploaded the video files to a secure server. Promoted products were defined using the World Health Organization European Region nutrient profile model. Results: The sample of 95 children uploaded 267.8 hours of video data. Children saw a median of 17.4 food promotions each hour on the internet. Considering the usual time spent on the internet on mobile devices, children would be exposed to a median of 168.4 food promotions on the web on mobile devices per week, 99.5 of which would not be permitted to be marketed based on nutrient profiling criteria. Most promotions (2613/4446, 58.77%) were peer endorsed and derived from third-party sources. Conclusions: Exposure to brand content that is seemingly endorsed by peers or web-based communities likely heightens the effects of marketing on children. Regulations to protect children from this marketing must extend beyond paid advertising to paid content in posts generated through web-based communities and influencers.
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Australian National Preventive Health Agency