Making sense of adolescent-targeted social media food marketing: A qualitative study of expert views on key definitions, priorities and challenges

Daphne L.M. van der Bend*, Tammie Jakstas, Ellen van Kleef, Vanessa A. Shrewsbury, Tamara Bucher

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Traditional food marketing stimulates adolescents' consumption of energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods. These dietary behaviours may track into adulthood and lead to weight gain, obesity and related non-communicable diseases. While social media use in adolescents has proliferated, little is known about the content of food marketing within these platforms, and how this impacts adolescents' dietary behaviours. This paper aimed to obtain expert insights on factors involved in the association between social media food marketing (SMFM) and adolescent dietary behaviours, and to explore their views on key priorities, challenges and strategies for future SMFM research and policies. One-on-one semi-structured interviews (n = 17) were conducted with experts from Western Europe, Australia and North America, in the fields of public health (policy), nutrition science, social media marketing, adolescent medicine, clinical psychology, behavioural sciences, communication, food industry, social influencing, and social marketing. The experts' collective responses identified that the line between food content posted by social media users and food companies is blurred. Adolescents' processing of SMFM may be mostly implicit, involving social comparison, emotional engagement, and attaching symbolic meanings to foods. Mediating factors and adolescent-specific and SMFM-specific moderating factors potentially influencing adolescents' response to SMFM were summarized in a Social Ecological model. Experts agreed that there is limited scientific evidence on adolescent-targeted SMFM and there are no strict regulations in place to protect adolescents from unhealthy SMFM, while adolescents are active social media users who are cognitively vulnerable to implicit marketing tactics. Adolescent-targeted SMFM should be controlled by encouraging healthy food marketing or limiting junk food marketing. Also, prioritizing both quantitative research on SMFM exposure and its impact, and qualitative research to obtain adolescents’ perspectives, is crucial to advocate for regulatory changes regarding adolescent-targeted SMFM content.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105691
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2022


  • Adolescent health
  • Eating behaviours
  • Food marketing
  • Obesity
  • Social media


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