Reality TV and social networks expose young people too much to tobacco, alcohol and junk food

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    According to a new study, reality TV programs expose young people to far too much tobacco, alcohol and junk food. This poses a problem when we know that exposure to these products and their consumption are linked, as confirmed by dietician nutritionist Virginie Dubois.

    Published in the Journal of Public Health on May 5, this study conducted by scientists from the Oxford University Press is based on a sample of twenty reality TV shows broadcast between 2019 and 2020 in English-speaking countries.

    Evaluation of the public exposure of these programs

    The researchers wanted to estimate the exposure of the public, generally quite young, to tobacco, alcohol and junk food broadcast in this type of program. For this, they counted the number of one-minute intervals containing images showing tobacco, alcohol and fatty and/or sugary products. Objective: to realize the impact of these images on the future consumption of this type of product by viewers.

    Alcohol and junk food in almost every episode

    The results are edifying. The researchers estimated that, counting actual use, implicit use and specific product branding, while tobacco appeared in only 2% of the episodes watched, alcohol appeared in 98% of them. them ! Junk food does not rank far behind, appearing in 88% of episodes viewed.

    Brands widely shown on screen

    The different marks appearing on the screen were also studied. Tobacco brands, consistent with the first results, are not very present. In contrast, scientists counted 149 different brands of alcohol in 46% of episodes and 93 brands of junk food in 39% of episodes. At the top of the appearances, the Coca-Cola brand, which appeared 87 times in the samples analyzed.

    The authors also made a comparison between countries, and found that alcohol and junk food appear more in programs broadcast in the United Kingdom than in those produced in the United States or Australia.

    Adverse effects on the health of young people

    These programs are widely watched and seen by young people and the nature of reality TV, with its inspirational role models, likely influences the tobacco, alcohol and food consumption choices of young people. Current regulations around the depiction of this imagery in popular programs are not sufficient and need to be reviewed to prevent exposure of young people.” worries Alexander B. Barker, lead author of the study.

    Since almost all adults who smoke begin in their teens, teenage drinking is associated with a higher risk of drinking in adulthood, and children and adolescents with obesity generally become obese adults, it is important to prevent children and adolescents from experimenting with these behaviors” he continues.

    Social networks are not left out

    Another study led by Austrian researchers including Dr Maria Wakolbinger and Dr Eva Winzer of the Medical University of Vienna was presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Maastricht, the Netherlands, held May 4-7. It demonstrates that most food and drink content posted by German influencers on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube is bad for your health.

    This work analyzed the meals, snacks and drinks that appeared in the posts and videos of six of the most popular German-speaking influencers among teenagers aged 13 to 17, with a combined total of more than 35 million followers (subscribers). The authors found that 75% of the foods and drinks shown were high in salt, fat or sugar, with the most frequently shown products being chocolate and sweets.

    Need for urgent regulation on the issue

    The authors are concerned about this observation and also underline the “”urgent need for political will and effective regulation on influencer marketing to children”. “How can we expect our children to eat healthily when social media content is biased to promote foods high in fat, salt and sugar?” asks Dr. Wakolbinger.

    He also points out that:Influencers have enormous power over what young people find relevant and attractive. Our results suggest that most of the time, influencers don’t flag when their posts are ads – it’s imperative that governments take notice.”

    Worrying childhood obesity

    For dietitian nutritionist Virginie Dubois, this is similar to the same influence of advertisements on children. “Since 2018, the Gattolin law has prohibited advertising for this type of product during programs for children under 12 on France Télévisions, because the impact of these images on the subsequent consumption of these foods has been widely demonstrated.“says the specialist.

    For social media or this type of reality TV show, the impact must probably be the same, if not more severe, because young people tend to identify with the influencers they follow” adds the professional, who thinks “that it is time to address the issue of childhood obesity which doubled during the Covid-19 health crisis” and that a regulation “must see the light of day“.


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