Adolescents’ Engagement with Unhealthy Food and Beverage Brands on Social Media


In a cross-sectional, self-reported online survey, 1564 adolescents (ages 13-17) described their social media engagement with fast food, sugary drink, snack, and candy brands. This study examined associations between brand engagement, sociodemographic variables (race/ethnicity, acculturation, age, gender, and parent education), and screen time (daily TV viewing time and time spent on other screens, including smartphones, tablets, and computers).
Seventy percent of adolescents reported engaging with food and beverage brands on social media, more than one-third engaged with ≥5 brands, and Black and less acculturated Hispanic adolescents were more likely than non-Hispanic White adolescents to engage with brands. Models including sociodemographic variables and screen use as predictors of brand engagement showed that: watching TV ≥2 hours daily was associated with following ≥1 brands; and using other screens ≥4 hours daily was associated with following ≥5 brands. Younger teens are engaging with brands to the same degree as older ones, even though they spend 30 minutes less per day on screens. Disproportionate engagement among Black and less acculturated Hispanic youth is of special concern. Findings suggest policies to reduce adolescents’ TV food and beverage ad exposure may reduce youth engagement with brands on social media.