UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Live-streaming gaming platforms can give kids and teens a front-row seat to their favorite players’ video game screens, but they also can expose them to ads marketing alcohol, energy drinks and junk food that are endorsed by influencers.
A new Penn State study found that while these ads were already highly prevalent, they also increased substantially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The researchers discovered that energy drinks made up the vast majority — nearly 80% — of marketing, but ads for restaurants, soda, processed snacks, alcohol, and candy were also present. Additionally, a rapid increase in ads occurred between March 2020 to November 2020, which correlated with the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic as much of the world transitioned to spending more time in an online environment.
Caitlyn Edwards, postdoctoral scholar of nutritional sciences, said exposing teens and adolescents to this type of influencer marketing could help shape their thoughts about unhealthy foods and beverages — including alcohol.
“This type of marketing can normalize high-fat, high-sugar and high-sodium foods at a time in young viewers’ lives when they’re developing eating habits that are going to follow them into adulthood,” Edwards said. “We saw an increase, for example, in alcohol branding, which could normalize the idea that alcohol consumption needs to be a regular thing in a viewership that is still underage.”
Despite being relatively new, the researchers said live-streaming platforms like Twitch, Facebook Gaming and YouTube Gaming have risen quickly in popularity — with Twitch alone reporting having more than 30 million people engaging on their platform each day. Almost a quarter of accounts on the Twitch platform belong to individuals between the ages of 13 and 17 years old.
On these platforms, viewers can watch and communicate with gamers as they play video games in real time, as well as chat with other viewers. Once gamers get large enough followings, they are sometimes contacted by companies to promote their products as part of a sponsorship.
Travis Masterson, assistant professor of nutritional sciences and director of the Health, Ingestive Behavior, and Technology lab said because of the unique nature of sponsorship marketing, less is known about its effects on viewers.
“When an influencer is promoting a product, there’s interaction happening between the influencer and their viewers that isn’t there with traditional print or visual ads,” Masterson said. “And because viewers feel like they have a relationship with the influencers, they may be more willing to buy these products as a way to help their influencers succeed and make money from these sponsorships.”
For the study, the researchers compiled a list of more than 300 food and beverage product names that have been shown to have high rates of food and beverage marketing tactics on social media platforms. Products were divided into six categories: alcohol, candy, energy drinks, processed snacks, soda and restaurants.
The researchers …….