Examining the Relationship between Youth-Targeted Food Marketing Expenditures and the Demographics of Social Media Followers

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Mar 3;17(5):1631. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17051631.


: Background: To determine how many adolescents follow food/beverage brands on Instagram and Twitter, and examine associations between brands' youth-targeted marketing practices and percentages of adolescent followers.

Methods: We purchased data from Demographics Pro to characterize the demographics of Twitter and Instagram users who followed 27 of the most highly advertised fast food, snack, and drink brands in 2019. We used one-sample t-tests to compare percentages of adolescent followers of the selected brands' accounts versus all social media accounts, independent samples t-tests to compare followers of sugary versus low-calorie drink brands, and linear regression to examine associations between youth-targeted marketing practices and the percentages of adolescent followers.

Results: An estimated 6.2 million adolescents followed the selected brands. A higher percentage of adolescents followed the selected brands' accounts (9.2%) compared to any account on Twitter (1.2%) (p < 0.001), but not Instagram. A higher percentage of adolescents followed sugary (7.9%) versus low-calorie drink brands (4.3%) on Instagram (p = 0.02), but we observed the opposite pattern for adults on Twitter and Instagram. Television advertising expenditures were positively associated with percentages of adolescent followers of the selected brands on Twitter (p = 0.03), but not Instagram.

Conclusions: Food and sugary drink brands maintain millions of adolescent followers on social media.

Keywords: adolescents; fast food; food marketing; social media; sugar-sweetened beverages; targeted advertising.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior
  • Advertising* / economics
  • Demography
  • Female
  • Food*
  • Humans
  • Marketing*
  • Social Media*