Additional time spent on social media (SM) due to the COVID-19 pandemic, increased adolescents’ exposure to food and beverage (F&B) advertisements. The marketing of unhealthy F&B products featuring celebrities and influencers may contribute to an increased preference towards various products, potentially influencing consumption patterns and increasing one's long-term health risk.
The objective of this study was to examine SM's influence on adolescents’ food and beverage preferences during the COVID-19 pandemic and explore their parents’ perceptions of this phenomenon.
Study Design, Setting, Participants
Three, one-hour, semi-structured virtual focus groups were conducted with seven dyads of 6th grade students and their parents (n = 14) from a suburban school district in northeastern Pennsylvania. Students and parents participated in separate focus groups and completed a demographic survey that included SM use characteristics in June-September 2021.
Focus group transcripts were transcribed, coded, and analyzed by both authors using a constant comparison approach.
Three themes that emerged from adolescents were: increased SM usage, factors that increased consumption, and increased recall of memorable aspects of F&B advertisements. Themes that emerged from parents were: parental observations of adolescents’ less healthy eating behaviors, parental influence over F&B purchases, and increased engagement in food trends seen on SM.
These themes suggest increased SM use influenced adolescents' ability to recall specific F&B brands and potentially influenced consumption. Safeguards seem to remain in place regarding parents’ influence over the adolescents’ F&B purchase requests. Additionally, parents may be aware of the targeted marketing used on SM and its potential to influence adolescents’ eating behaviors. These findings suggest the importance for parents, dietitians, and other healthcare providers to be aware of increased SM usage and the potential influence F&B advertisements may have on adolescent eating behaviors. These findings will also be important for nutrition educators to understand when teaching these risks to students/future practitioners.
Villanova University's Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program