A study has claimed that the food and drink content many celebrities post on Instagram is so unhealthy that it will fail UK advertising standards.
University of Chicago researchers studied the meals, snacks, and drinks featured in Instagram posts by the world’s most famous celebrities.
The majority of the content, from 2019 to 2020, was from stars living everyday life rather than sponsored ads.
While the names of the celebrities in the study were not revealed, they likely include stars like pop singer Ariana Grande, Hollywood sensation Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, and reality TV star Kim Kardashian, who huddled together 650 million followers.
The researchers found that sweets and alcohol were the most popular food and beverage items posted by celebrities and warned that they may normalize children’s unhealthy eating habits.
One of the study’s authors, Professor Bradley Turnwald, wrote: ‘Celebrities, of course, have the right to post food and drinks as they like on personal social media.
“However, given the broad following of celebrities, there is potential to shape their followers’ perceptions that healthy eating is normative and valuable if celebrities commit to posting a healthier food and beverage profile.”
Childhood obesity is a major problem in both the United Kingdom and the United States with up to a third of young people in every country considered to be overweight.
Ironically, social media influencer culture has also been associated with higher body awareness and dysfunction.
Hollywood star Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson has used Instagram to promote his tequila termana brand on multiple occasions.
Singer Ariana Grande shares a bit of pizza with one of her pet dogs in an Instagram post
Celebrities like Kim Kardashian have a massive following on Instagram, with the reality TV star having over two million followers on the social media platform.
The study found that alcohol was by far the most popular type of drink to post about celebrities on Instagram. The authors said the frequency with which celebrities post about alcohol is important given that it may normalize drinking for young star followers.
Snacks and sweets, which are high in sugar and saturated fat, made up the majority of celebrity posts about food in the study, nearly three times as much as in the next top category.
Top 10 Foods Posted by Influencers
The nutrients most popular for celebrities to post on Instagram in the study were broken down by individual items:
- Sweet baked goods (such as cakes, cookies, cakes) 21.2 percent
- Fruit 12.7%
- Vegetables 8.1 percent
- Sweet 6.5%
- Delicious snacks (such as chips and popcorn) 4.5 percent
- Bread 4 percent
- Other desserts (such as ice cream) 3.9%
- Sandwiches (including cheeseburgers) 3.4 percent
- Poultry 3 percent
- Grain-based meals (such as lasagna and rice bowls) 2.8 percent
Researchers analyzed 3,065 photos of food and drink posted on Instagram by 181 celebrities, who have a combined following of 5.7 billion followers. Multiple items appeared in some publications.
Pop singers were more likely to post about sugary drinks, while famous men tended to display strong alcoholic beverages like spirits like tequila.
A score was then generated for each ingredient using the UK’s Nutrient Profile Index (NPI) – a system that ranks products out of 100 based on their health.
It takes into account different levels of sugar, salt, fat, fiber, and protein, with higher scores being considered healthier.
The authors highlighted that under UK advertising guidelines, foods with an NPI of less than 64 and drinks with an NPI of less than 70 are considered unhealthy and cannot be advertised on television for young people.
The researchers found that the overall nutritional score of 87 per cent of celebrity social media accounts was unhealthy enough to fail legal standards for youth advertising in the UK.
Drinks fared worse, with 89.5 percent of celebrity Instagram accounts posting unhealthy choices.
Snacks and sweets were the most popular with regard to food, making up 37.3 percent of the posts – three times higher than any other item. Alcohol accounts for just over half of all posts about drinks.
Top 10 Drinks Posted By Celebrity Influencers
The most popular drink items posted by celebrities on Instagram are broken down by individual items:
- Wine 22 percent
- Alcoholic beverages and cocktails 18.6%
- Coffee 14.6%
- Ordinary water 10.4%
- beer 10.1%
- Soft drinks 8.3%
- Tea 4.7%
- Energy and sports drinks 2.5%
- Fruit drinks 2.7%
- Flavored or Enhancer Water 1.7%
The researchers, who published their study in the journal JAMA Network Open, blamed the majority of the unhealthy findings on the high levels of sugar and saturated fat in the published items.
Posts about unhealthy food and drink also attracted more engagement from Instagram users, something that could encourage celebrities to post these items.
Breaking down celebrities by occupation revealed that musicians were more likely to post unhealthy drink choices than other groups, but there was no similar trend for food.
Researchers selected 181 celebrities for the study based on their appearance in the top 100 lists of the most influential athletes, musicians/singers, actors and actresses, and social media influencers.
They took the top 25 men and the top 25 women from each list to maintain gender balance in the study.
The researchers then excluded those without an Instagram account, leaving 181 celebrities.
Professor Turnwald, an expert in behavioral sciences, said the influence of celebrities in promoting young people’s eating and drinking habits should not be underestimated.
“By creating the perception that users broadcast their real lives, social media platforms enhance the perceived credibility and credibility of the published content,” he said.
Celebrities are especially influential.
On social media, celebrities are seen as fellow users, but also as more credible than regular users and more trustworthy than TV ads.
Celebrity posts can influence viewers by aligning attitudes, socializing and conveying positive meaning from liked people to the foods and drinks they portray.
He added that celebrities posting more about alcohol was important because it could normalize drinking for young star followers by creating a “positive association”.
One limitation of the study acknowledged by the authors is that they did not compare celebrities who post unhealthy foods and drinks to those of regular Instagram users.
Note that this means that they cannot determine whether content posted by celebrities is more unhealthy than content posted by the general public.
Another limitation cited is that the authors did not explore Instagram video content for food and drink options.
What should a balanced diet look like?
Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally whole grains, according to the NHS.
• Eat at least 5 servings of a variety of fruits and vegetables every day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruits and vegetables count
• Layer meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally whole grains
• 30 grams of fiber per day: Like eating all of the following: 5 portions of fruit and vegetables, 2 whole-wheat crackers, 2 thick slices of whole-wheat bread, 1 large baked potato with the skin on
• Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soy drinks) choose options that are lower in fat and lower in sugar
• Eat some beans, legumes, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including two servings of fish each week, one of which should be fatty)
• Choose unsaturated oils and fats and consume in small quantities
• Drink 6-8 glasses of water daily
• Adults should have less than 6g of salt and 20g of saturated fat for women or 30g for men per day.
Source: NHS Eatwell Guide