How food marketing on instagram shapes adolescents' food preferences: Online randomized trial

Marie Bragg, Samina Lutfeali, Tenay Greene, Jessica Osterman, Madeline Dalton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Worldwide obesity rates have prompted 16 countries to enact policies to reduce children's exposure to unhealthy food marketing, but few policies address online advertising practices or protect adolescents from being targeted. Given adolescents spend so much time online, it is critical to understand how persuasive Instagram food advertisements (ads) are compared with traditional food ads. To strengthen online food marketing policies, more evidence is needed on whether social media ads are more persuasive than other types of ads in shaping adolescents' preferences. Objective: This study examined whether adolescents could identify food companies' Instagram posts as ads, and the extent to which Instagram versus traditional food ads shape adolescents' preferences. Methods: In Part 1, participants aged 13-17 years (N=832) viewed 8 pairs of ads and were asked to identify which ads originated from Instagram. One ad in each pair was selected from traditional sources (eg, print; online banner ad), and the other ad was selected from Instagram, but we removed the Instagram frame-which includes the logo, comments, and "likes." In Part 2, participants were randomized to rate food ads that ostensibly originated from (1) Instagram (ie, we photoshopped the Instagram frame onto ads); or (2) traditional sources. Unbeknownst to participants, half of the ads in their condition originated from Instagram and half originated from traditional sources. Results: In Part 1, adolescents performed worse than chance when asked to identify Instagram ads (P<.001). In Part 2, there were no differences on 4 of 5 outcomes in the "labeled ad condition." In the "unlabeled ad condition," however, they preferred Instagram ads to traditional ads on 3 of 5 outcomes (ie, trendiness, P=.001; artistic appeal, P=.001; likeability, P=.001). Conclusions: Adolescents incorrectly identified traditional ads as Instagram posts, suggesting the artistic appearance of social media ads may not be perceived as marketing. Further, the mere presence of Instagram features caused adolescents to rate food ads more positively than ads without Instagram features.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere28689
JournalJournal of medical Internet research
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2021


  • Adolescents
  • Food marketing
  • Instagram
  • Social media
  • Traditional media
  • Food Preferences
  • Social Media
  • Humans
  • Marketing
  • Adolescent
  • Advertising
  • Child
  • Food

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics


Dive into the research topics of 'How food marketing on instagram shapes adolescents' food preferences: Online randomized trial'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this