YouTube star Zoella is harmless enough, right? She shows kids how to do their make-up, posts cute pictures of her pug on Instagram, makes teens believe they too can one day own a mansion, and talks openly and honestly about her mental health. But could this super-sweet, ever chirpy, rose gold-loving (come on, hands up, how many members of the older generation actually have a favourite colour of metal?!) be making your kids fat?
According to a recent study carried out at the University of Liverpool, young people who watch vlogs starring the likes of Zoella (aka Zoe Sugg) and her boyfriend, fellow YouTuber Alfie Deyes, may be encouraged to consume significantly more calories.
Researchers conducted an experiment that saw them divide 176 young people into three groups; one watched a clip of a YouTube influencer promoting junk food, the second watched a vlogger promoting healthier food, and the third viewed a video where something non-food-related was promoted.
All the participants were then presented with some snacks to tuck into, including a choice of grapes, carrot sticks, chocolate buttons and jelly sweets.
It was found that the group who’d watched vloggers talking about junk food ended up consuming 26 per cent more calories than the other participants, snacking on an average of 448 calories compared to 357 for the other two groups.
This demonstrates the sheer power of influence that YouTubers can have over young people’s decisions, and that this could be affecting their health in some cases. It’s one thing being encouraged to buy a new lipstick, but another to be influenced into stuffing your face with large quantities of cake on a regular basis
Dr Emma Boyland, one of the study authors, explained: “On TV, there are more cues as to when it’s advertising – there’s an advert break, there’s a jingle – whereas digitally it’s a lot more embedded in the rest of the content.”
Nowadays, influencers do legally have to declare when they’re being paid to promote something, but the fact that this is usually done in such a subtle way can make easily influenced viewers think it’s totally normal to live on a diet of Instagrammable treats, like rainbow-coloured cupcakes and waffles dripping in maple syrup.
Vlog trends like mukbang challenges, whereby YouTubers basically binge on food on camera, could also be encouraging young people to consume more calories. We have to admit, we struggle to understand the appeal of this. You could just stand outside Greggs at lunchtime for the same effect, but with added fresh air thrown into the mix.