The marketing of unhealthy commodities through traditional media is known to impact consumers’ product attitudes and behaviors. Less is known about the impacts of digital marketing (online promotional activities), especially among young people who have a strong online presence. This review systematically assesses the relationship between digital marketing and young people’s attitudes and behaviors towards unhealthy commodities. Literature was identified in June 2017 by searches in six electronic databases. Primary studies (both qualitative and quantitative) that examined the effect of digital marketing of unhealthy food or beverages, alcohol and tobacco products on young people’s (12 to 30 years) attitudes, intended and actual consumption were reviewed. 28 relevant studies were identified. Significant detrimental effects of digital marketing on the intended use and actual consumption of unhealthy commodities were revealed in the majority of the included studies. Findings from the qualitative studies were summarized and these findings provided insights on how digital marketing exerts effects on young people. One of the key findings was that marketers used peer-to-peer transmission of messages on social networking sites (e.g., friends’ likes and comments on Facebook) to blur the boundary between marketing contents and online peer activities. Digital marketing of unhealthy commodities is associated with young people’s use and beliefs of these products. The effects of digital marketing varied between product types and peer endorsed marketing (earned media) may exert greater negative impacts than owned or paid media marketing.
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