Monika Skolimowska, dpa via Associated Press
A young woman looks at the Instagram profile of user Amalie Lee on the display of a smartphone in Berlin, Germany, 2 August 2016.

SALT LAKE CITY — Social media superstars can inspire children to eat cookies and junk food, but apparently struggle at getting children to eat vegetables, a new study suggests.

  • Researchers from the U.K. recently reviewed data from 176 children age 9 to 11, who were asked to review fake Instagram profiles for two real YouTube video bloggers popular among children under 13.
  • One group of children viewed pictures with unhealthy food, another viewed pictures with health foods (like carrots and grapes) and the third viewed the bloggers without any food to eat, according to the study, which was published in Pediatrics.
  • Then, the children were asked to select their own snacks. Children who viewed pictures of their influences eating unhealthy foods ate about 91 calories more than the group who saw influencers without any food. Those calories were more likely to come from unhealthy food like candy.
  • The children who saw photos of children eating healthy foods are about the same as those who saw influencers without any food.
  • "We originally thought any exposure to food would increase intake, but we only found it for unhealthy foods," said Anna Coates, a doctoral student at the University of Liverpool and lead author of the study.

What it means: Coates said she was interested in seeing what impacts YouTube bloggers have on children through their content advertising.

  • Marie Bragg, an assistant professor in NYU Langone's Department of Population Health,told CNN that children are often influenced by those they believe to be their peers, which can be social media influencers.
  • Bragg said social media "blurs the lines of entertainment and promotion in a way that could make ads uniquely powerful in ways we haven't seen before.”
  • But, she said, it can’t always make people healthier.
  • "We are designed (biologically) to be really responsive to the sugar, salty, properties of unhealthy foods, and we are not really programmed to overeat vegetables in the same way," Bragg said.
2 comments on this story

Why it matters: An extra 90 calories can cause weight gain. Natalie Digate Muth, a pediatrician and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, told USA Todaythat an extra 70 to 80 calories can cause a child to become overweight or possibly obese.

  • "Clearly an extra 90 calories per day will contribute to excess weight gain," Muth told USA Today. "But more than that, unhealthy snacks are high in sugar and salt which we know has long term negative impact on overall health, contributing to diabetes and heart disease."