Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2439

Article | Open Access

Marketing to Youth in the Digital Age: The Promotion of Unhealthy Products and Health Promoting Behaviours on Social Media

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Abstract:  The near-ubiquitous use of social media among adolescents and young adults creates opportunities for both corporate brands and health promotion agencies to target and engage with young audiences in unprecedented ways. Traditional media is known to have both a positive and negative influence on youth health behaviours, but the impact of social media is less well understood. This paper first summarises current evidence around adolescents’ exposure to the promotion and marketing of unhealthy products such as energy dense and nutrient poor food and beverages, alcohol, and tobacco on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. We explore emerging evidence about the extent of exposure to marketing of these harmful products through social media platforms and potential impacts of exposure on adolescent health. Secondly, we present examples of health-promoting social media campaigns aimed at youth, with the purpose of describing innovative campaigns and highlighting lessons learned for creating effective social media interventions. Finally, we suggest implications for policy and practice, and identify knowledge gaps and opportunities for future research.

Keywords:  advertising; alcohol; junk food; social marketing; social media; tobacco; youth



© Sally Dunlop, Becky Freeman, Sandra C. Jones. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.