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Celebrity Social Media Food Posts Largely Unhealthy: Study

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Ever since the term “influencer” became popular in the world, celebrities have used their social media to attract millions of fans. Many look to their idols, what to wear, what places to visit, and even what to look like.

But what about food?

This is where a study in JAMA Network Open comes into play. Analysis of 3,065 social media posts by 181 high-following celebrities on Instagram found that 87% of the posts contained unhealthy items such as alcoholic beverages, snacks, and sweets.

The researchers identified which celebrities were “heavily followed” by looking at 200 of the most popular celebrities from the ESPN 2018 World Fame 100, the Top 100 Artists of Billboard 2018, the Internet Movie Database 2018, and the most haunted profiles on the Social -Media tracking platform Trackalytics selected.

While celebrities make millions of dollars in sponsored contributions, most of the food and beverage contributions included in the study were not sponsored, Bradley Turnwald, PhD, lead author and lead researcher at the Center for Decision Research on the booth of the University of Chicago School of Business, Medscape says Medical News. In fact, only 4.8% of posts were sponsored by celebrities.

Turnwald drew attention to the responsibility that celebrities have in choosing the food and drink shown on their social media accounts.

“It’s not just ads that expose viewers to alcoholic beverages and unhealthy foods,” he said. “We need to be aware of the food and drink that is portrayed on social media as part of everyday life, because these posts have the potential to influence what viewers perceive as normative and valued in our culture.”

And doctors have worked to counter this information. For example, a patient-friendly handout developed by the American Academy of Family Physicians promotes the benefits of healthy eating. Benefits include weight loss, heart disease and cancer prevention, and lower cholesterol, as well as improved focus, increased energy, and improved mood.

Food and beverages have been rated based on two nutrition rating systems used in UK advertising law. First, the Nutrient Profile Index (NPI), which refers to the amount of sugar, sodium, energy, saturated fat, fiber, protein, and fruit and / or vegetable content per 100 g sample; an NPI of 0 means the least healthy while 100 means the healthiest food. Second, the labeling guidelines for “packaging traffic lights,” which traffic light colors use to classify food health; While a green light indicates foods that are low in sugar, saturated fat, total fat, and sodium, a red light indicates foods that have many of these properties.

Other findings from the study are the following:

  • Male and female celebrities were equally likely to post about healthy foods or beverages; Male celebrities had an average NPI of 53 while female celebrities had an average NPI of 52.1.

  • Female celebrities shared photos of foods with higher sugar content. Male celebrities tended to post foods higher in sodium and lower in fiber; Men were also more likely to have a higher alcohol content.

  • Snacks and sweets were three times more likely to be featured in posts than any other type of food; followed by fruits, proteins, mixed dishes (with products such as sandwiches, pasta, pizza, meat and soups), vegetables and cereals.

UK law banning junk food from being advertised on TV before 9 p.m. will go into effect in late 2022. Britain is joining a number of countries and taking a proactive approach to restrict advertising of unhealthy foods and drinks to young people, Turnwald says. The study used the UK guidelines to put the results in context.

Turnwald says he was surprised that half of the drinks featured on celebrity Instagram photos were alcoholic beverages. “We expected alcoholic beverages to be common, but that was more than we expected,” he says.

According to the study, findings on the prevalence of posts about alcohol are consistent with research on how easy it is for young people to see alcohol content on social media, and that the posts are usually associated with positive traits. A 2011 study found that young people who viewed alcohol use on social media as normative were more likely to drink alcohol.

The study evaluated the Instagram accounts of 66 actors, actresses and TV personalities, 64 musicians and 51 athletes.

JAMA network open. Published online January 12, 2022. Full text

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