As part of our healthy life mission, we want to investigate what food environments look like for young people. The government ban on unhealthy food and drinks marketing is currently going through parliament as part of the Health and Care Bill and looks set to become law from 2023. It is a positive first step towards improving some of the influencing factors that can underly obesity in young people but does it go far enough?
Research shows that exposure to unhealthy food adverts may have a detrimental effect on young people’s food choices. One study by Cancer Research UK suggests that the chances of being obese more than double for teenagers who can recall recently seeing food marketing on social media.
In the UK, we are currently seeing high obesity rates among young people. According to the NHS, around 25% teenage boys and nearly 20% of teenage girls aged 11-15 are considered obese. These stark figures mean we need robust evidence about young people’s exposure to (and understanding of) the unhealthy marketing they see if we are to effectively reduce obesity levels.
We believe that young people need greater protection from online advertising and will be testing our hypothesis before suggesting further changes to policy that may improve the health of young people. To find out more, we will run a study with teenagers to find out how much food and drink marketing they see and assess their understanding of online food advertising.
Our citizen social science project will involve young people aged 13-16 actively participating in generating new data on the digital marketing of food and drinks. We will use a gamified crowdsourcing method to help retain participants' engagement and motivation.
To find out more about the marketing teenagers see, we need to understand the digital landscape through their eyes. We will do this by actively engaging young people to become researchers by sharing screenshots of marketing they see across devices and platforms. This will help us understand more about the amount of online marketing young people see and the level of awareness young people have about the marketing they are exposed to online.
We will work in partnership with the youth organisation Bite Back 2030 to engage teenagers in this issue and develop creative ways to share our insights.