Researchers claim food memes are leading to teen obesity

Sure, let's hear them out.


Stacey Ritzen

Internet Culture

Published Oct 18, 2018   Updated May 21, 2021, 3:46 am CDT

Amid perilous future job security, climate change, and—in the U.S. anyway—the constant threat of school shootings, youths today have plenty to worry about. Now researchers are warning that food memes, of all things, could be making teenagers fat.

Yes, one of the only ways teens can distract themselves from all of the awful stuff is supposedly contributing to a teenage obesity crisis, according to U.K. researchers who submitted their findings to a British parliamentary committee.

Researchers from Loughborough University suggested that memes are sending teens dangerous messages by joking about unhealthy eating habits. It’s worth noting that food or health memes make up only a very small percentage of memes. But sure, let’s hear them out:

“A substantial number of individuals on Twitter share health-related Internet memes, with both positive and negative messages,” they wrote, noting that many “contain inappropriate material.”

OK, I mean, welcome to the internet. Anyway.

The research also points out that teens “display little, if any, emotion when sharing these memes,” which is probably because they’re teens.

As for examples of memes sending dangerous obesity vibes, the findings specifically point to the Lu Hao, or “Fat Asian Kid” meme, and—no joke—a meme that “created a human-like body from pictures of pizzas and hamburgers, with frankfurters used for limbs and a smiley-faced potato for a face.” The junk food body is captioned “me” in contrast to three normal looking bodies.

It’s true that teens are very easily influenced, which is why we have more than a passing familiarity with phrases like “butt chugging” and the Tide Pod Challenge in 2018. Still, it’s hard to imagine teens are going to overindulge because they see a crude human shape cobbled together with hamburgers and hot dogs. Per CNN:

“Internet memes are generally viewed as entertaining but they also represent a body of cultural practice that does not account for the specific needs and rights of teenagers,” the researchers warned.

“Unhealthy lifestyles cost the NHS billions every year,” they added, suggesting that “the dangers of inaccurate/inappropriate health messages” contained in memes could be a contributing factor.

Food memes could be a “contributing factor” to teenage obesity, but so could sugary snacks and school lunches devoid of nutrition, lack of time for physical activities, and plenty of other conditions. Not to mention, much of how society views and tries to address obesity is just plain wrong.

And heck, kids literally grow up watching a blue monster who’s obsessed with cookies, so if you really want to crack this thing wide open, maybe start at ground zero.


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*First Published: Oct 18, 2018, 5:08 pm CDT