Impact in low-income countries

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A study has found that McDonald’s Instagram ads may harm the health of young people in low-income countries. Image credit: NurPhoto/Getty Images.
  • A new study reveals that fast food companies, such as McDonald’s, focus their marketing on low-income countries.
  • They do this using popular social media sites, such as Instagram (IG) and other digital media platforms.
  • This report indicates that McDonald’s may use IG marketing ads targeting young consumers around the world.

McDonald’s media outreach is global – it operates in 101 countries. According to a new report, the marketing ads you use to target young consumers may play a role in food consumption patterns that lead to health complications later in life.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Omni Cassidy — assistant professor of population health at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine — and her collaborators report the findings in a paper that appeared in Prevention and health of BMJ nutrition.

The study randomly selected 15 countries to discover how McDonald’s markets its products on different continents. The researchers wanted to know whether the company’s marketing practices differed for different consumer environments in the selected countries.

They focused their studies on IG because it is one of the most popular social media platforms among teens and young adults.

This study followed randomly selected official IG accounts of McDonald’s for 4 months, from September to December 2019. In April 2020, it determined the number of followers, likes, comments, and video views associated with each account. The researchers published their results in December 2021.

The researchers divided countries into three groups according to the criteria of the 2019 World Bank database. These were high-income countries (HIC), upper middle income countries (UMIC), and lower middle income countries (LMIC). Their goal was to discover whether McDonald’s advertising methods varied according to a country’s financial situation.

The study showed that McDonald’s posted more IG ads and used promotional price offers, gifts and marketing tactics aimed at children in low- and middle-income countries. These advertisements are effective when the price of foods and beverages is essential in consumer purchasing decisions.

Talking to Medical news todayDr. Cassidy notes that: “Marketing on these platforms gives McDonald’s a way to create ads that are attractive and ‘cool’ and can be easily tailored to the target audience. This presents a problem because the types of products being marketed are mainly those that contain a lot of fat, sugar and salt, Which we know is linked to poor diet and poor health.”

Dr Cassidy went on to explain the real-world implications, noting that “[t]These types of advertising contribute to creating an environment that makes it difficult for adults and children to make healthy food choices.”

She also added, “These tactics create young consumers who will remain loyal to their brand throughout their lives.”

She continued, “For those living in developing countries, there is not only a risk of disease for adults and children, but also a risk for the country’s health care systems that have to bear the enormous burden of treating infectious diseases and the growing number of non-communicable diseases (such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure).

A diet rich in fat, sugar and salt increases growth chances Cardiovascular disease later in life.

The researchers took screenshots of McDonald’s on Instagram over the course of 4 months ending in December 2019, then added the various forms of viewer responses, including likes, comments or video views, in April 2020.

The 15 IG accounts held a total of 10 million followers and had 3.9 million likes, 164,816 comments, and 38.2 million video views.

The study collected 849 IG marketing publications. These results revealed that during the four months of the study, the number of IG engagements in low- and middle-income countries was 227 and 298, respectively, while countries in the low- and middle-income group received 324 engagements.

Jobs targeting children were also more numerous in low- and middle-income countries, which were approximately 1 in 5 jobs, than in high-income countries, which were approximately 1 in 8 jobs.

In addition, ads depicting more eating habits appeared in high-income countries (4.7%) than in low- and middle-income countries (2.6%) or in low- and middle-income countries (2.5%).

Another noticeable difference in advertising between countries with different income modes is promotional price offers and free gifts. McDonald’s offered these incentives to 40% of low- and middle-income countries and only 14% of high-income countries.

Other research has also shown that companies often use price promotions [or] Free gifts when marketing to low-income communities, where price may be more important in their decision to buy foods [or] Dr. Cassidy said.

Dr. Cassidy said MNT: This data supports two primary ways we can intervene. One way is through health policies that reduce or eliminate the marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks, especially to children.”

The second is by creating prevention and intervention programs that will help adults and children learn about these ads and make food choices more in line with their own hunger cues, personal values, and culture. Digital and social media ads are designed to look like “normal” Instagram posts, which can make it difficult for adults, children, and even parents to recognize when an ad has been viewed.

– Dr. Omni Cassidy

“The primary strength of the study is that it is the first to take a closer look at how McDonald’s, one fast food company, uses more kid-oriented promotions and price,” the study author went on.

However, this observational study could not establish a cause-and-effect relationship due to many limiting variables. This included the number of countries the researchers studied, the absence of the target audience’s eating habits, and the purchasing behavior of people who follow McDonald’s IG ads.

The takeaway remains that fast food chains have rapidly increased their social media presence around the world, particularly in countries with low to middle income families. As social media advertising expands into fast food advertising, this may affect consumer health.

In addition, marketing advertisements that lure young fast food consumers may significantly increase the burden of current and future health care concerns on the world’s most vulnerable countries.

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