Digital Feast: Navigating a Digital Marketing Mix, and the Impact on Children and Young People’s Dietary Attitudes and Behaviours
Overweight and obesity is the second leading cause of cancer in the UK after smoking. Overweight and obesity causes different types of cancer and over 22,000 cancer cases each year in the UK. It is estimated that each year, obesity costs the NHS in England £6.1 bn and the wider UK economy £27 bn.
Childhood obesity rates in the UK are among the worst in Western Europe, with a third of children leaving primary school with obesity.
It is vital to understand what is driving these alarming obesity rates, and what can be done to address the issue.
Research has consistently shown that marketing for food and drinks high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) negatively influence dietary-related knowledge, attitudes, consumption and health outcomes in young people. This research has so far largely focused on the impact of TV advertising, but the marketing landscape has changed; digital marketing and advertising is now as, or more, prevalent in young people’s lives than TV advertising.
In 2017, digital advertising accounted for over half of total UK advertising spend (£11.6bn). Digital media provides unique strengths for marketers; it is low cost, marketing can be tailored to specific audiences, content can be user-generated, and internet use across all age groups is very high. Internet use is particularly high in younger age groups; 99% of 12-15 year olds go online for over 20 hours a week.
The food and drink industry have embraced digital media and put it at the centre of their marketing strategies. Food and drink producers are using a sophisticated range of digital marketing strategies, ranging from smartphone apps to social media. Within each activity, they also use a wide variety of creative and stimulating marketing activities to create engaging and attractive content.
As digital marketing becomes more widespread and its impact more well documented, there is a need to bring together the evidence on what effect this may have on children’s health. This report shows the pressing need for regulatory change, across all media platforms, and provides evidence to underpin policy action.
- Children and young people are exposed to and participate with HFSS marketing across multiple digital channels.
- The food and drink industry use digital media to reinforce and amplify brand and product messages.
- A variety of tactics are used in digital marketing content to promote food consumption, and content mostly promotes unhealthy food.
- HFSS digital marketing rarely shows health information, even less so in content aimed at young people.
- Digital marketing for HFSS food and drinks reaches and appeals to children and young people.
- Children have low digital marketing literacy.
- Food and drink marketing uses a range of tactics which can impact children and young people.
- Seeing digital HFSS marketing is positively associated with obesity related outcomes in children and young people.
- Parents find it difficult to monitor and control the digital marketing that children are exposed to online.