YouTube 'kidfluencers' exposing children to 'staggering' amounts of junk food ads

Mike Wright
·3 min read
Researchers found kidfluencer videos with junk food in had been view more than a billion times - PA
Researchers found kidfluencer videos with junk food in had been view more than a billion times - PA

YouTube ‘kidfluencers’ are exposing children to "staggering" levels of junk food advertising with unhealthy items plugged in videos that have had over a billion views, a study has revealed. 

Researchers found that almost half of the clips looked at on the video site’s "wildly popular" channels featuring child stars promoted unhealthy food and drinks.

The lead author of the report, published in the US journal Pediatrics, Dr Marie Bragg, warned that parents were often unaware that the kidfluencers their children watch can be paid by food and beverage companies to promote products.

The research comes as some of the most popular channels on YouTube, the second most visited website in the world, in recent years have been for child vloggers, who entertain young audiences by reviewing  toys or doing experiments and pranks.

The largest such account is called Ryan’s World, which features nine-year-old Ryan Kaji from the US and has almost 27 million subscribers. Forbes estimates that the channel earned $26 million (£20 million) last year from advertising revenue from YouTube as well as sponsored content.

A toy 'unboxing video on the Ryan's World YouTube channel - YouTube
A toy 'unboxing video on the Ryan's World YouTube channel - YouTube

For the study, Dr Bragg and her colleagues identified the five most popular kid influencers on YouTube of 2019 (whose ages ranged from three to 14 years old) and analysed their 418 most-watched videos.

Although many of the accounts looked at are based in the US, they will also be viewed widely by children in the UK. 

The team’s findings showed that nearly half of the most popular videos from kid influencers (42.8 per cent) promoted food and drinks.

More than 90 per cent of the products shown were unhealthy branded food, drinks, or fast food toys, with fast food as the most frequently featured junk food, followed by chocolate and fizzy drinks.

The videos featuring junk food product placements were viewed more than one billion times, a "staggering" level of exposure for food and drink firms.

Dr Bragg, from the NYU School of Global Public Health, said: “It was concerning to see that kid influencers are promoting a high volume of junk food in their YouTube videos, and that those videos are generating enormous amounts of screen time for these unhealthy products.”

She added: “Parents may not realise that kid influencers are often paid by food companies to promote unhealthy food and beverages in their videos.”

In the UK, there are rules against advertisers targeting children with products that are high in fats, sugar or salt (HFSS).

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has previously taken action against companies it found to have advertised such foods and drinks on channels predominantly watched by under-16s.

However, it is unclear how the ASA will be able to tackle the phenomena of HFSS products being advertised at UK children on global platforms such as YouTube, where the channels and advertisers may be based abroad.