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Oct. 29, 2020, 2:45 p.m. EDT

YouTube kid influencers are marketing junk food from McDonald’s, Coke and others to children

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By Syd Stone

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Product placement in kid influencer videos is effective, Bragg said. “Pester power,” when children beg their parents for specific products or brands, generates $190 billion in sales every year, she said.

Bragg said that parents might have more power to change the advertising content that influencers produce than they might think, although it is tough to compete with companies’ advertising budgets.

“A lot of these influencers are really invested in their fan base, so I would imagine if fans said they would actually love to see a mix of healthier stuff that might help shift the tide,” she said. “It really speaks to the need for parents to get vocal about what they want to see in these videos.”

However, Bragg said, the solution is not to place all the blame on the kid influencers or their families because “it’s hard to turn down millions of dollars.”

Instead, she said parents and advocates can put pressure on the companies to be more responsible with the kinds of sponsorships they promote.

“We as a society and as a government have a responsibility to help parents,” she said. “Obesity and its comorbidities cost a lot of money, so if we’re able to set up policies and put pressure on companies to change their practices, that’s important.”

The researchers are calling on the Federal Trade Commission to enforce stricter regulations on the ways kid influencers can be used to promote unhealthy foods and drinks.

Bragg said the Kids Internet Design and Safety (KIDS) Act — introduced by senators Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut in March —attempts to protect kids from influencer marketing, but focuses more on nicotine and tobacco products.

“Expanding bills like the KIDS Act [to include junk food] could strengthen this policy landscape even more,” she said.

In addition to tighter federal regulations, Robb said there’s a good amount of research yet to be done on digital media, influencers and children.

“It’s really important that we do a much better job of doing that research and setting up some roadblocks and rules to protect kids,” he said. “They are in much more of a wild west space when it comes to the kinds of ads that can reach them.”

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