Study Indicates Slim Influencers Do Not Motivate Tweens to Make Healthy Food Choices

Can the eating habits of tweens be affected by messages from influencers? A study published in Frontiers in Psychology suggests that a thin influencer does not affect food choices in children between 11 and 13 years old, while an overweight influencer might.

Tweens, teens, and young adults are subject to a lot of promotion from influencers and brands. In this technology-driven age, influencer marketing is a huge industry, with influencers advertising clothing, food, makeup, and more. This can have a profound effect on people, especially young and impressionable people. Since nutrition is such an important part of a developing child’s health, this study seeks to understand how influencers can affect food choices for tweens.

For their study, Steffi De Jans and her colleagues used 146 participants with an even gender split. The participants were randomly selected from 3 different schools in Belgium. Investigators created two Instagram profiles for fake influencers, one who presented himself as ideally slim and one who was overweight. Influencers were shown holding carrots (healthy snack) or cookies (unhealthy snack). Participants completed measures on influencer credibility, influencer admiration, transparasocial interactions, and food choices.

The results showed that when exposed to the lean ideal influencer, their choice of snack was not affected; the group shown the healthy snack and the group shown the unhealthy snack chose the unhealthy snack in similar proportions. When exposed to the overweight influencer, participants were more likely to choose the healthy snack after seeing the post with the unhealthy product. The results showed an effect of weight on perceived credibility, with overweight influencers being perceived as less credible, and on influencer admiration, with influencers with an ideal of thinness being more admired.

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This study took steps to better understand the effects of influencers on food choices for tweens, but it also has some limitations to be aware of. One of those limitations is that this study used a fictitious influencer, who likely wouldn’t have the influence on kids that someone they know might. Additionally, participants were told that they would be given their chosen snack as a thank you, which may have influenced them to choose the snack they would prefer at that time. Future research could provide more snack options.

“This study shows that exposure to an ideal influencer for leanness did not affect tweens’ choice of healthy or unhealthy foods. Therefore, we suggest that the use of lean-ideal social media influencers does not stimulate a healthy diet among preadolescents,” the researchers said.

“However, exposure to an overweight influencing factor that promotes unhealthy snacking may positively affect children’s healthy food choices. These results could be explained by contrast effects, as the overweight influencer is also perceived as less credible and admired by tweens. Based on this main result, it is difficult to make a concrete recommendation for marketers or public policy when it comes to promoting healthy foods for children and adolescents, since our results would suggest that the best way to promote a healthy diet is by using of an overweight diet. influencer promoting an unhealthy food product.”

“Therefore, we believe that it is not advisable to promote healthy eating to children through the promotion of unhealthy food by an overweight influencer, as this may perpetuate stereotypes about overweight people in the sense that people who do not have a slim ideal are unhealthy and eat unhealthy food,” the researchers concluded.

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The study, “Impact of Thin-Ideals on Influencer Posts Promoting Healthy vs. Unhealthy Foods on Tweens’ Healthy Food Choice Behaviors“, was written by Steffi De Jans, Liselot Hudders, Brigitte Naderer and Valentina De Pauw.