Nearly 20 percent of the photos shared by Scandinavian adolescents on Instagram depict cookies, cakes and the like. (Photo: NTB Scanpix)

Teens are posting unhealthy food on Instagram

Only 22 percent of their pictures display fruits or vegetables.

Scandinavian teens don’t seem to feel a need to present themselves as carrot-munching puritans. At least if you can rely on their Instagram accounts. About two-thirds of the snapshots which Scandinavian youngsters post on Instagram are of unhealthy food, according to an article published in the magazine Appetite.

“It’s not so surprising that they share lots of pictures of high calorie foods with low nutritional value. They tend to be showing off their treats and comfort foods on Fridays or Saturdays,” explains Christopher Holmberg, the first author of the article and a research fellow at the University of Gothenburg.

Glad shots of cookies, cupcakes, sodas and ice cream

Adolescents don’t seem to have pangs of guilt about showing off the high-cal foods they are consuming. Most of the descriptions, emojis and tags following the food pictures were seen to be positive.

When the kids posted pictures of chocolate, cookies and candy the descriptions were even more upbeat.

Christopher Holmberg (at left) and the other researchers behind the study decided against using the adolescents’ own pictures as examples. They made their own takes on the way the young people described the foods they were eating. (Photo: Daniela Fjellman and Christopher Holmberg)

“But even though the pictures were positive the food wasn’t always the central theme of the posting. The situation that encompassed the treat was cheery and the food itself was just used as a prop,” says Holmberg.

That said, the food was the main focus in nearly 96 percent of the pictures the researchers examined.

Most of the photos were of cookies and treats from the oven, trailed closely by sodas and other sweet drinks. Then came pictures of chocolate, ice cream and candy. Food that contained plenty of calories and little nutrition was portrayed in 68 percent of the photos by teenagers.

Fruit, vegetables and berries only turned up in 21.4 percent of the pictures viewed by the researchers.

Tracked down the teens

In their search for adolescents the researchers used the hashtag #14år (#14years) to track down pictures posted by kids who were 14 years old or perhaps just celebrated their own or a friend’s 14th birthday. 

They found over 3,400 accounts with pictures that were marked with this theme tag. After filtering out those which were private and not accessible to one and all, ones which did not belong to individual persons and those belonging to people who were celebrating the 14th birthday of their dogs, their children or their 14th wedding anniversaries, the researchers were left with 1,001 accounts which they could be reasonably certain were created by someone round the age of 13 or 14. Among these, 854 depicted food and could be used in the study. 

Many of these also displayed the logos of large multinational companies.

Free ads for other teens

In over a third of the pictures the logos of Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Espresso House and other giant corporations were as prominent as they would have been in an advertisement, according to the study.

“I have interviewed the youth afterwards and talked about these pictures and they say much of the focus was on being social and getting together around food. The idea was to show that one had friends and money,” says Holmberg.

The researchers behind the article would like to see more knowledge about how adolescents react to advertising initiated in this manner by their peers. The shared photos from kids their age can be said to entail a degree of personal recommendation. The researchers think this can make them more effective than traditional advertising campaigns.


Read the Norwegian version of this article at

Translated by: Glenn Ostling

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