Experts warn against advertising ultra-processed children’s food on Youtube


Researchers Araceli Castelló-Martínez and Victoria Tur-Viñes, from the Department of Communication and Social Psychology at the University of Alicante (UA), warn against the advertising of ultra-processed foods for children by most YouTubers. follow-ups in the form of challenges, sweepstakes or hobbies.

A YouTuber goes to a fast food restaurant and asks one of his followers to buy one of his products if he guesses the price. Another challenges the public to eat foods of the same color for 24 hours. These are just two examples of messages that our country’s most “influential” children are delivering through their YouTube channels and that their peers receive without enforcing the regulations that govern advertising in traditional media.

This is what the two experts from the Department of Communication and Social Psychology at the University of Alicante warn in the review Gaceta Sanitaria after analyzing more than 47 hours of content from 13 food brand chains and 15 channels of food brands. ‘kids on YouTube.

The most common content in the 304 videos analyzed was challenges, which made up 53.3% of the total sample. These challenges are presented to their subscribers in a storytelling-based entertainment format and are seen more frequently on underage YouTubers’ channels (59% of total) than on food brand channels (37.8%).

Ultra-processed products appear in 85.2% of challenge videos, with brands visible in 117 videos. There are 377 food brands featured in these videos (230 visually, 12 video title inclusions and 135 verbal mentions). Additionally, 82.4% of those challenge videos show parents using, participating in challenges, or talking to the protagonist. In the case of food brand challenge videos, the presence of reference groups is reduced to 25.8%, with the most frequent scenes taking place in the kitchen or having fun with friends.

Children consume food in 66% of the challenge videos and the elderly in 41.4%. Despite the strong brand presence, only 68 of 162 challenge videos (41.9%) include a commercial content disclaimer. When we talk about food brands, while the food brand challenge videos combine rational and emotional argumentation, in the little “youtubers” challenge videos, the emotional argument predominates. The strategy of The Phoskiters by Phoskitos channel stands out, with 31 food brand challenge videos, in hybrid format (Phoskitos is looking for Youtuber) based on a draw, encouraging the public to publish their own videos presenting the proposed challenge.

The association of advertising and ultra-processed foods, using the challenge format as a communication strategy, presents a high risk with its practices intended for children, which are increasingly frequent on YouTube, as the researchers warned in their study. The challenges are to test human limits or challenge authorities or the recommended healthy diet, clearly putting children’s health at risk and alarmingly increasing obesogenic habits.

Obesity is a global pandemic, and it is essential to increase control over this type of content in the legal, self-regulatory and ethical arena of digital media. Creativity, fun or mere entertainment are not enough arguments to convincingly promote behaviors that put children’s physical health at risk, the researchers explain.


Journal reference:

Castelló-Martínez, A & Tur-Viñes, V., (2021) A high-risk combination: obesity, food marks, minors and challenges on YouTube. Gaceta Sanitaria.

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