Now Come the Kidfluencers, With Negative Effects

The Lempert Report
October 30, 2020

You can check them out on YouTube, Instagram and they are all over social media.

In fact, Ryan’s World – one of the leading kidfluencers has 27 million subscribers and his review of the McDonald’s hamburger maker and cash register toys have almost 86 million views.

But now major media including the NY Times and CNN are reporting findings from the journal Pediatrics that just published a study proving that these kidfluencers are making a huge impact.

The study demonstrates how advertisers are seeking to take advantage of new avenues to market their wares to children.

"We should approach YouTube influencer videos with skepticism, even with videos that seem to be educational or kid-friendly," said senior author Marie Bragg, an assistant professor of public health nutrition with joint appointments at New York University's School of Global Public Health and Langone Medical Center.

Topline is that these YouTube videos include paid product placements of unhealthy foods.

The researchers analyzed videos posted by the five most-watched kid influencers on YouTube in 2019. The influencers were between the ages of 3 and 14. The study team noted whether the influencers played with toys or consumed food, such as McDonald's meals, keeping tabs on the amount of time they spent on a given activity.

Of the 418 YouTube videos that fell within their search criteria, the researchers found that 179 of the videos featured food or drinks, with 90% of those instances showing unhealthy branded items, such as fast food.

Those specific YouTube videos were viewed more than a billion times.

The study points out that dietary habits during childhood can have a significant effect on their likelihood of their becoming obese or developing cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes later in life.

One of the most important aspects of the study, Bragg said, was simply bringing attention to the fact that YouTube's most popular under-18 hosts are frequently promoting products directly, and other kids are often glued to the message especially during the current times of the pandemic when kids are glued to their screens – sometimes just out of boredom. And what makes it worse is that they are not getting outdoors to play with their friends and stay in shape.

"Child exposure to unhealthy food, beverage, and other content on YouTube needs to be regulated," said Dr. Jenny Radesky, lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on digital advertising to children. "'Host-selling' – she says -- the practice of trusted characters promoting products within their own videos -- needs to stop on YouTube, because it's not allowed on TV."

Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, told CNN, "Young children view the stars of these videos as peers and friends and don't understand that the reason YouTube stars like Ryan are so enthusiastic about products featured in there is because they are stealth marketers." And being paid to do so.

"Research shows that kids who watch these videos are more likely to nag their parents for products — and throw a tantrum if they say no — than if they watch traditional TV commercials," Golin said.

And its big business. Sunlight Entertainment is the production company for Ryan's World – these are not home made videos. "Ryan's World cares deeply about the well-being of our viewers and their health and safety is a top priority for us," said Susan Yin, their spokesperson told CNN.

Happy Halloween.