What if YouTubers could help teens eat healthy?


Since its takeover by Google in 2006, YouTube has experienced a meteoric rise. Standing on the podium of the most visited sites in the world, with nearly 1.8 billion unique users per month, the platform is meeting with great enthusiasm among the younger generations. An Ipsos study (2020) reveals that 76% of 15-25 year olds consult it daily.

This reflects the concept of web 2.0: digital spaces placing a process of co-creation at the heart of their operation. In other words, it is the users who collectively build what the platform is. This freedom of creation represents a major advantage in attracting the younger generations.

One of the highlights of any visitor to YouTube is the profusion of content available. If categories of “mainstream” videos are put forward by algorithms, such as beauty, music, video games or even entertainment, there is also a profusion of “niche” channels. These illustrate all the richness and diversity of the YouTube offer. Thus, each Internet user is almost guaranteed to find content related to their areas of interest.

Moreover, the platform, gaining in maturity, new themes appear, such as aquarium keeping, gardening, or even programming. You can also revise your baccalaureate or learn a foreign language. Like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) , prestigious educational institutions provide free courses in many disciplines.

Recipes and tips

In this context, it’s no surprise that YouTube holds a special place in learning how to eat well. Food videos are the fifth most popular topic on the platform. These views have also grown since the onset of the health crisis, testifying to consumers’ awareness of the stakes of good nutrition on their health.

VLOG (contraction of “video” and “blog” in particular is a format popular with young Internet users for sharing ordinary or extraordinary experiences with Internet users. We can cite the example of VLOGs “a day on my plate” where YouTubers film their meals throughout the day, from preparation to tasting the dishes.

Recipes and tips are available for shopping, preparing dishes, choosing the most suitable ingredients and, as such, participate in the food culture of Internet users.

Moreover, the promotion of healthy eating is reflected in most of this content. In view of these staging of recipes combined with recommendations from influencers, the platform can be seen as a new food education medium for 18-25 year olds in search of nutritional benchmarks. These videos therefore reinforce the knowledge acquired or challenge previous knowledge shaped by the family circle and / or public health messages .

Identification process

Prevention campaigns aimed at young audiences emphasize the effectiveness of messages designed by and for peers. However, on YouTube, this form of horizontal education is a key principle which undoubtedly legitimizes the enthusiasm generated by videos relating to food. For young adults, these are vectors of food education based on three fundamental levers induced by digital communication codes .

The first lever concerns the educational quality of the message. On the videos, it is possible to present your opinions, develop an argument, transmit knowledge and know-how, while using humor . You can watch them several times, repeat a passage to fully understand a recommendation, comment on a message.

The second lever relates to the authenticity of the message. The YouTubers claim the fact of exhibiting “the real”. They say they show themselves as they are in their daily life and not as Internet users would like them to be. This willingness to be anchored in reality and to embody the message strengthens the feeling of confidence of young people with regard to the advice given.

Finally, the social proximity with the target, generated by the words of a young person like them and the immersion in his intimacy tends to reinforce the legitimacy of the messages disseminated. The video allows the YouTuber to unfold his narrative framework, to tell himself by highlighting the traits of his personality, his values ​​but also his flaws. Throughout the video, the viewer is transported into the life of “someone who looks like him”, fostering a sense of identification.

Public health issues

On the other hand, this communication between peers to promote healthy eating is not without risks because the information conveyed can be erroneous . Indeed, the confidence aroused by the recommendations of peers finds its limits in the fact that some YouTubers draw their own lessons from personal experiences or from reading academic publications which are sometimes poorly assimilated .

Faced with these risks, it is important that the public authorities invest more heavily in this medium to promote nutrition among young people. From a public health perspective, the platform is indeed a relevant alternative for communicating differently with 18-25 year olds. You still have to be credible in adopting YouTube usage and communication codes to appeal to this young audience.

In this context, the transposition of the techniques used in influencer marketing, in public health offers an interesting avenue to explore, taking the form of a collaboration between an influencer and health actors, combining their expertise (digital for some, nutritional value for others).

The effectiveness of this system is illustrated in a communication campaign of general interest, recently awarded the Gold Effie France prize. It is based on a partnership between the first French YouTuber, Squeezie, with 16.5 million subscribers and Public Health France to promote the recommendations of the eat-to-move program among 18-25 year olds.

At the end of this campaign, the manger-bouger Instagram account recorded a 95% increase in its subscribers, between October and November 2020, from 4,200 to 8,200. Currently, the account has more than 19,000 subscribers. . In addition, 30% of 18-25 year olds say they have reproduced at least one recipe, following viewing of one of the six videos resulting from the collaboration between Squeezie and mangerbouger.

These very encouraging results lean in favor of the use of online platforms to conduct public communication campaigns focused on food education for young adults, aimed at preserving their well-being and their health.

Author Bios: Pascale Ezan is a University Professor – consumer behavior – food – social networks and Maxime David is a Marketing researcher both at Le Havre Normandy University