Funded by a three-year grant from The Ian Potter Foundation and with support from other industry partners, the #DigitalYouth project seeks to protect vulnerable online audiences from exposure to products that are harmful to health.

#DigitalYouth, led by the Global Obesity Centre (GLOBE) at the Institute for Health Transformation will for the first time, quantify young audiences’ total exposure to, and engagement with, harmful marketing online. Powered by artificial intelligence and mobile technology, #DigitalYouth will feature a world-first system designed to monitor online content for evidence of unhealthy marketing.

Our rapidly changing, digital world means that every day, young audiences are bombarded with marketing as they go about their online lives. Quite often, these ads feature products known to be harmful to long-term health such as junk food, alcohol, tobacco, e-cigarettes and gambling. All are known risk factors for a range of chronic diseases, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer and mental ill-health. Sadly, the regulation of advertising in the digital space is virtually non-existent, leaving the door open to potential harmful messaging reaching our most vulnerable audiences.

Addressing the problem of under-regulation requires detailed information about the nature and extent of online marketing to young audiences. Internationally, research outcomes from previous studies do exist, but these have looked at children of a narrow age range and have focussed on single commodities, resulting in data of limited value to policy makers.

The #DigitalYouth team, with expertise in public health, policy and machine learning, is ideally suited to fill the vast gaps that exist in research in this area.

#DigitalYouth’s revolutionary system will gather accurate and extensive data ethically and comprehensively, providing the first thorough snapshot of 1) what is being marketed to children and young adults, 2) how it is being marketed and 3) how often. This information can then be used to assist with the formulation of effective rules and regulations designed to protect young audiences while they are online. Ongoing monitoring systems will hold governments and industry accountable for online exploitation in marketing once regulations are put in place.

The study’s chief investigator and Co-director of GLOBE, Associate Professor Kathryn Backholer is excited to extend Deakin’s prior proof-of-concept work through the #DigitalYouth project:

Governments have a legal obligation to protect children and uphold their digital rights, putting their health before corporate profits. This project will develop the necessary data required to support governments to introduce regulatory actions to protect children from the harmful marketing of junk food, alcohol, tobacco, e-cigarettes and gambling and develop a system for ongoing monitoring.

Project partners include:

  • The Ian Potter Foundation
  • VicHealth
  • Cancer Council Victoria
  • QUIT Victoria
  • Responsible Gambling Foundation of Victoria
  • Obesity Policy Coalition
  • Foundation for Alcohol Reseach and Education (FARE)
  • The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre.