DAVID GREENE, HOST:
It is well-known that ads for junk food on TV can strongly influence what kids want to eat. Now a new study published in the journal Pediatrics finds that social media can also make a difference. Here's NPR's Patti Neighmond.
PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: Any kid with a cellphone or social media account is likely to be following one or more of thousands of social media influencers, who post regularly about what they do, what they like and what they eat.
ANNA COATES: They're young, they're successful, they're outgoing. They're positive, energetic.
NEIGHMOND: And highly appealing to kids, says Anna Coates, a Ph.D. student in psychology at the University of Liverpool in the U.K. Coates wanted to know just how much influence video bloggers have over what children eat. Her study looked at 9 to 11-year-olds. Some of them saw vloggers eating healthy snacks, like fruit or veggies. Others saw them eating junk food.
COATES: A Bounty bar. So a Mars chocolate bar. Chocolate biscuits, cookies. Those kind of things.
NEIGHMOND: After viewing the images, children had 10 minutes to choose between a healthy and an unhealthy snack. The children who saw the vloggers eating junk food were much more likely to choose the unhealthy one.
COATES: They actually consumed 32 percent more calories from the unhealthier snack.
NEIGHMOND: That's an extra 90 calories a day. And Dr. Natalie Muth with the American Academy of Pediatrics says that can make a difference.
NATALIE MUTH: We know that it only takes about an extra 70 calories per day for a child who's of normal weight to develop overweight or obesity.
NEIGHMOND: Muth says the added influence of social media exacerbates an already unhealthy food environment.
MUTH: Everywhere kids go, they see junk food. They're constantly exposed to it. They're constantly getting bombarded by media images to eat it and to drink sugary drinks.
NEIGHMOND: Researcher Coates suggests parents prepare their children for the junk food onslaught by talking with them about what's healthy and what's not. Patti Neighmond, NPR News.
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