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Social media videos spark unhealthy eating, experts say

Chicago Pizza Tour
Posted at 11:47 AM, May 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-30 14:47:23-04

Many of us have stopped our social media scrolling to watch a food video at some point in our lives, but it probably wasn't a video of salad.

New research out of Canada found people were far more likely to like share or comment on videos of calorie-dense foods such as pancakes or fried chicken.

“Researchers believe this phenomenon is connected to saturated fats. Saturated fats are prevalent in things like butter, cheese, meats and oils and they're really known to give food that juicy, chewy and creamy experience,” said Ethan Pancer, Assistant Professor of Marketing at the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary's University. “That's what it's actually commonly seen in a lot of these videos that they're layered with different types of cheeses, the cheese is melting and it's really kind of getting that juicy, chewy experience that that people seem to be looking for.”

As engagement increases, these junk food posts are often rewarded by social media algorithms and they become more likely to show up in your feed. Since food promotion is linked to our eating habits, it's likely these unhealthy posts are leading to some unhealthy decisions.

“If more unhealthy content is being viewed,” Pancer said. “What that actually means is changing the social dynamics of what we're seeing as normal for food consumption. And so this isn't just changing what we eat as individuals, but it's changing how we share our food and what people are actually eating at in a social context.”

With many Western countries battling obesity, these unhealthy food posts are getting the attention of lawmakers next year. The UK will ban junk food advertising online.

Similar rules have been proposed here in the US, but have not gained traction. Companies spend more than $14 billion annually and nearly all of that money promotes unhealthy products.