Children ‘bombarded’ with junk food adverts in gaming livestreams

Children 'bombarded' with junk food adverts in gaming livestreams

A new study found that young viewers are exposed to 52 minutes of junk food promotion for every hour of gaming livestreams watched.

Researchers at the University of Liverpool recently investigated the extent and nature of food marketing via gaming livestreams on websites such as Twitch. They first analysed food cues in 52 hours of Twitch content by three popular influencers uploaded between 2020 and 2021. These were then compared to outcomes such as attitudes, preferences, purchases and consumption in those aged under 18.

Overall, an average of 2.6 food cues were identified per hour, lasting around 20 minutes each. This amounts to 52 minutes of exposure per hour, including overlapping exposure from multiple foods being promoted at once. More than seven in 10 (71%) of the foods were high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS). Energy drinks were the most common category, accounting for 62% of the HFSS foods shown.

Eight in 10 (81%) of the food cues were branded, including the food brand’s logo being overlaid on the screen. However, only 2% had an advertising disclosure.

The most common delivery methods for these cues were product placement (44%) and looping images (41%). The researchers noted that this kind of advertising is unavoidable on screen and cannot be skipped.

Are young people’s attitudes to junk food influenced by livestream marketing?

Researchers went on to survey 490 young people to explore the impact junk food marketing via livestreams on their attitudes and habits. The participants had an average age of 17, and were 70% male and 76% white.

The gaming-based advertising was associated with more positive attitudes towards the foods being promoted. The study found that an average of 37 additional calories in HFSS foods were consumed after exposure to the marketing.

Rebecca Evans from the University of Liverpool is lead author of the study. She said: ‘Endorsement deals for prominent streamers on Twitch can be worth many millions of dollars. Younger people, who are attractive to advertisers, are moving away from television to these more interactive forms of entertainment. These deals involve collaborating with brands and promoting their products, including foods that are high in fats, salt and/or sugar.’

Dr Evans also discussed the potential health impacts for young children who have been influenced to consume more junk food. She said: ‘Our findings provide crucial new information on the extent, nature and impacts of HFSS food marketing via video game livestreaming platforms on young people’s eating behaviour.

‘The high level of exposure to digital marketing of unhealthy food could drive excess calorie consumption and weight gain, particularly in adolescents who are more susceptible to advertising. It is important that digital food marketing restrictions encompass innovative and emerging digital media.’

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