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By Alexandra Williams

The news isn’t good regarding the influence of social media on the foods children prefer. In a study published in Pediatrics (2019; 143 [4]) of 176 children ages 9–11, doctoral candidate Anna Coates of the University of Liverpool found that the youth who viewed social media influencers eating unhealthy food mimicked that behavior.

Coates et al. created mock Instagram profiles of two real-life popular social media video influencers. Assigned randomly to one of three groups, the children then viewed videos on the authentic-looking Instagram profiles. The first group saw the influencers holding healthy snacks, the second group observed the influencers holding unhealthy snacks, and the third group saw the influencers holding nonfood products.

The children’s combined intake of both healthy snacks (carrots and grapes) and unhealthy snacks (chocolate and jelly candies) was then measured. Those who viewed the “unhealthy” influencer videos increased their overall snack intake by about 448 kilocalories; unhealthy snacks, specifically, were up nearly 389 kcal. Disappointingly, there was no parallel increase in intake of healthy snacks by the children who viewed the influencers holding the healthy food.

Around 93% of children in the UK ages 8–11 use the internet, per a report by Ofcom. Coates and colleagues report that, of children online in that age group, 50% use Instagram. And among kids ages 5 to 15 in Britain, more than 80% are watching various types of social media content on YouTube.

With stats like these, fitness professionals may want to keep this hurdle in mind as they prepare youth-focused programs. The NASM Youth Exercise Specialist program provides specific guidance on macro- and micronutrients, food portions, prevention of childhood obesity, and other dietary and fitness concerns unique to the youth population.