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Effects of Advertising: A Qualitative Analysis of Young Adults’ Engagement with Social Media About Food

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Authors: Annika Molenaar and Wei Yee Saw, Linda Brennan, Mike Reid, Megan S.C. Lim and Tracy A. McCaffrey.

Background: Young adults are constantly exposed to energy-dense, nutrient-poor food and beverages, particularly through advertising. Exposure can influence poor food choices and negatively impact health.

Aim: This study aimed to understand young adults’ attitudes and experiences associated with food-related advertisements, particularly on social media.

Methods: This qualitative analysis involved n = 166 Australian 18 to 24-year-olds who were involved in a four-week online conversation on different areas relating to health, social media, and eating. Inductive thematic analysis was utilised on two forums on the recall and perceptions of food-related advertisements.

Results: Young adults commonly mentioned aspects of the marketing mix (promotion, product, price, and place) in food advertisements. Participants were more readily able to recall energy-dense, nutrient-poor food advertisements compared to healthy food-related advertisements. Digital advertisements were often discussed alongside the use of ad-blockers and algorithms which tailored their social media viewing to what they like. Participants felt constant exposure to unhealthy food advertisements hindered their ability to realise healthy eating behaviours and created feelings of guilt.

Conclusions: This current analysis highlights the need to provide an advertising environment that appropriately motivates healthy eating and a food environment that allows healthy food to be the affordable and convenient option.

Keywords: food; advertising; marketing; young adults; social media; social marketing.