Influence of digital marketing on fast food and sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and weight gain in adults during COVID-19 pandemic – Thailand, 2021.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, several countries reported weight gain in their populations, which contributed to overweight/obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs). COVID-19 lockdowns alter daily lifestyle toward sedentary. Food commercials use digital marketing during the pandemic. Obesogenic food, including fast food and sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB), were the most advertised foods. We aimed to assess the prevalence of weight gain, determine food digital marketing exposure, and identify their association with dietary behaviors and weight gain among Thai adults during the pandemic.

We conducted a cross-sectional analysis based on a survey from 25 provinces across the country, focusing on health-related behaviors during the pandemic among the population aged 15 and over. We described the prevalence of perceived weight gain, NCDs-related behaviors, and digital marketing exposure. We used multivariable logistic regression to detect associations between digital marketing exposure, dietary behaviors, and weight gain.

Among 6,821 respondents, 9.5% perceived weight gain during 18 months of the pandemic. The prevalence was higher in females, young, highly educated, and in certain living regions. People who perceived weight gain during the pandemics consumed fast food/SSB more frequently than those who did not report weight gain. Age group 15-24 was the most exposed to fast food/SSB digital marketing and a strong association between fast-food digital marketing and increasing consumption was observed in this group. (aOR=13.27,95%CI:1.63-107.98 for marketing exposure 3-4 days/week). Exposure to the fast food/SSB digital marketing 3-4 days/week was also associated with weight gain (aOR=1.44,95%CI:1.09-1.90 for fast food, and aOR=1.47,95%CI:1.13-1.92 for SSB).

Several Thai people gained weight during the pandemic. We discovered associations between digital marketing and dietary behaviors as well as weight gain. Interventions to limit digital food and beverage marketing should focus on adolescents to reduce their exposure to unhealthy food, one of the significant NCDs risks.

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