New research into food advertisements on Facebook and YouTube has found that almost all products advertised on the social media sites are classified as unhealthy.
The report: Volume, nature and potential impact of advertisements on Facebook and YouTube by food brands popular in New Zealand, was published in this week's edition of the New Zealand Medical Journal.
Written by Stefanie Vandevijvere, Charlotte Aitken and Boyd Swinburn, it looks at posts on Facebook pages of 45 popular packaged food, beverage and fast food company brands over two months, and YouTube channels of 15 popular brands over two years.
The aim of the study was to determine the extent, nature and potential impact of internet-based food and beverage marketing by analysis of the marketing of popular food brands in New Zealand.
Research into Facebook showed that the most popular page among packaged food brands was Whittaker's Chocolate Lovers, however, the page with the highest potential reach among 13 to 18-year-olds was Chupa Chups.
Among popular fast food companies, the most popular page and the page with the highest potential reach among 13 to 18-year-olds was McDonald's.
For popular beverage brands, Coca Cola was the most popular in both respects.
The pages with the largest potential reach among 13 to 18-year-olds, in each of the three categories, all had 100 per cent of their advertised food or beverage products classified as "occasional" according to the Ministry of Health food and beverage classification system.
Occasional foods are foods and drinks that are high in saturated fat and/or salt and/or added sugar.
Analysis of YouTube showed the most popular YouTube channels in the packaged foods, fast food outlet and beverage categories were KitKat, Hell Pizza and V Energy NZ respectively.
Of the 15 YouTube channels analysed, 13 had 100 per cent of their advertised products classified as for occasional consumption only.
The report showed that the extent of unhealthy food advertising by popular food and beverage brands on Facebook is substantial in New Zealand, with food brands posting on average every three days, but some brands more than once a day.
In comparison, advertising was lower on YouTube, with brands posting videos less than once a month on average on their respective channels.
Nearly every brand asked followers to like, comment, tag friends and share their posts, ensuring that their product was seen not only by their followers but also by the followers' Facebook "friends".
Famous sports persons and teams, such as the All Blacks, were most frequently used to promote products, while pages also widely used marketing features such as competitions, interactive games and apps for promotional purposes.
The results come after a recent New Zealand Health Survey revealed that one in three New Zealand children are either overweight or obese.
Social media sites like Facebook and YouTube are very popular, with 93 per cent of New Zealanders aged 15–24 years using the internet in 2012 - with this number likely to have grown since.
In addition, 88 per cent of internet users engage in social media.
The report concluded that further research was needed into the compliance of marketers to follow the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) code - which states marketers cannot target any advertisements with occasional foods to adolescents younger than 14 years on social media.
The report stated that further research also needed to investigate food advertising across all media platforms and interactivity between the different media and how food and beverage advertising is perceived by teenagers.