Digital technology usage and its influence on children's eating practices - applications invited

Published: 8 January 2021 at 15:54

We're looking for a PhD student to explore the impact of children’s digital technology usage, including exposure to digital food marketing, on their eating practices.

The aim of this research is to explore the impact of children’s digital technology usage, including exposure to digital food marketing, on their eating practices.

Childhood obesity is a global public health priority (WHO, 2019). Children living with obesity are more likely to have poor psychological and emotional health (Public Health England, 2020), and are more likely to become obese adults, with associated higher risks of health problems such as heart disease, some cancers, and type 2 diabetes (WHO, 2019).

In the 2018-19 school year, 22.6% of children in reception classes in the UK (ages four and five) were overweight, rising to 34.3% in year 6 (ages ten and 11) (Public Health England, 2020). Increased intake of high-fat, high-sugar and high-salt foods (HFSS foods), alongside a decrease in physical activity, have contributed to this rise in obesity rates (WHO, 2019).

WHO (2019) note the “aggressive” marketing of HFSS foods to children and families. Of particular concern is young children’s exposure to digital food marketing, as children are spending increasing time online (Boyland et al., 2020). In 2019, 72% of 8-11 year olds used tablets to go online, up from 66% in 2018, and 66% played games online, up from 58% in 2018. Half of 10 year olds used a smartphone (Ofcom, 2019).

Children’s cognitive and developmental vulnerabilities make them particularly susceptible to marketing techniques, and researchers including Smith et al. (2019) and Boyland et al. (2020) have called for research to explore the effects of internet advertising, social media, online games and other new media on children’s eating behaviours, dietary health, and longer-term health outcomes.

Research methods

The research will focus on children aged 9-11 (years 5 and 6). This age is associated with an increase in technology usage and greater independence, as children prepare for the transition to senior school (Ofcom, 2019).

The research will involve a qualitative approach, using multiple methods to understand children’s digital technology usage, exposure to digital food marketing, and the subsequent influence of this on their eating practices. This will include creative, participative methodologies in focus groups with children, such as drawing and storytelling, and focus groups/interviews with parents/carers.

Applications from suitably qualified students are invited for this project. Apply online, or contact Dr Sara Spear, Head of School of Management, at sara.spear@aru.ac.uk for more information.