As I have written on this blog many times before, we all know obesity is a common, serious, and costly health issue.Initiatives to address the global health pandemics has stalled and the debate rages on about how best to combat the ever growing health disaster.A few years back, I reviewed a book about junk food and how food manufacturers continue to aggressively market and sell vast amounts of energy-dense, nutrition-poor food and drinks.Food and beverage industry are increasingly targeting young people aged below 23 years. These young people on food and non-alcoholic drinks and most use the internet for social networking or gaming. So it’s not surprising marketers are placing a firm grip online to market their products.One of the powerful environmental factors influencing the rise in obesity is the ubiquitous presence of food and beverage marketing. Alarmingly, young adults are getting fatter, faster than other age groups.Global data shows that 15% of youngsters aged 18 to 25 years are considered overweight or obese.Experts have long warned that preventing weight gain in this age group is crucial, as beginning early adulthood with a healthy body weight means means much more chances for them to maintain a healthy weight later in life.Research into the nature and extent of junk food marketing has primarily focused on radio, newspaper and television advertising aimed at children. But in the age of social media, this focus is unlikely to capture the types of food and drink marketing adolescents and young adults are most likely to view.
To understand how junk food and drink brands are using social media to reach youngster, I investigated the top-ranked food and drink brands on Twitter and Facebook.I spent time trying to assess the nature of food and drink promotions on the popular social media sites.I was able to review 10 food and drink brand Twitter and Facebook pages on the basis of their marketing techniques, follower engagement and potential reach. The pages included fast food joints, soft and energy drinks, confectionery, ice cream,snacks among others.Junk food and drink marketing is prolific and seamlessly integrated within online social networks. I found that pages widely used social media marketing features that increase consumer interaction and engagement, such as competitions based on user-generated content, interactive games and apps.Adolescents and young adult users were both equally receptive to the pages as their comments on the adverts showed.The Twitter pages we studied were professionally moderated and appeared to be administered by either the company brand owner or an advertising agency. These pages were not low-budget or simply amateur fan pages, but clearly part of an overall marketing strategy. The most popular Facebook brand pages I visited, administrators responded to virtually every post made to its timeline and engaged with post comments daily, which may help explain its popularity. Brand pages also included a Facebook app that allowed customers to place an order without having to click outside of Facebook. These order apps are being promoted by offering prices and menu upgrades exclusive to Facebook users.
Included was an easy purchase option so effortlessly embedded in a customer’s Facebook friend network encourages impulse purchasing.Soft drinks brand pages were hugely popular on Twitter, reflecting the high consumption of these products among adolescents and young adults. Studies have showed that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages contributes to rising obesity levels. Young people engaged with these brands several times a week. On average, pages posted new content daily, with some pages posting multiple times a day. When this activity is combined with the daily login habits of Facebook users, the reach of marketing messages quickly amplifies. Users willingly spread marketing messages on behalf of food and beverage corporations with seemingly little incentive or reward required.It is well known that people who experienced strong positive emotions while viewing online content for food and beverage brands are a couple of times more likely to recommend the brands and to prefer the brands. Conversely, some of the most effective public health behaviour change campaigns have generated negative emotions and may not be as effective in social media environments in which people can actively avoid these uncomfortable messages. If people are engaging with online content because it makes them feel good, it may mean that health promotion messages that are effective in other forms of media will not work on social media. Young adults are a highly desirable target population for junk food marketing. The moral of this story is that restrictions on junk food marketing should to be extended to include internet-based advertising and should aim to protect older children and youth otherwise the overweight and obesity challenges will continue to grow.