A Critical Discourse Analysis of Food Marketing to North American Youth through Social Media

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Terrio, Carrie
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Mount Saint Vincent University
Obesity rates among North American youth are a public health concern (Roberts, Shields, de Groh, Aziz & Gilbert, 2012; Ogden, Carroll, Kit, & Flegal, 2012). Previous research findings show strong statistical evidence that televised food advertisements are associated with adiposity among children and youth (ages 2-18 years old) (Institute of Medicine, 2006). In recent years, food and beverage companies have started utilizing newer forms of media including social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to promote products to youth with potential ripple effects on their food-related choices. However, there is currently a lack of research conducted on the topic of food marketing to youth via social media. The aim of this research study was to examine the marketing techniques used by food marketers to market food and beverage products to youth using social media. Another purpose of the study was to determine how youth who are exposed to food marketing on social media respond to these marketing campaigns and how they influence their peers. Data were collected from a sample of food and beverage companies that were part of the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative which were deemed to be most popular based on numbers of likes, tweets and views on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, respectively. Written messages, images and screenshots from videos posted by food companies and consumer posts were collected from food company social media sites. Data analysis resulted in development of a number of themes including: Critical Consumer, Consumer as Co-consumer, Food Brand Promotes Emotions, Food Product Associated with Social Activity, Food Brand Associated with Cool Lifestyle, and Health Appeal. Implications of the findings include development of health promotion programs and social policies that aim to mitigate the negative impact of social media food marketing directed at youth. Although social media has provided a marketing advantage for food marketers, youth consumers may also benefit from food companies use of social media, since it provides youth with an opportunity to communicate with food companies and their peers. Social media food marketing also allows youth to engage in social activist efforts directly on food company social media pages.
Childhood obesity , Social media , Food marketing