Professor Harry Dugmore (1)

(1) Director, Centre for Health Journalism, School of Journalism and Media Studies, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa

Overweight and obesity rates in Australia and South Africa have increased substantially over the past two decades. Approximately 64% of Australian adults have a body mass index (BMI) that places them in these two categories, while 70% of women in South Africa are either overweight or obese — as are about 50% of South African men. 13% of South African children are overweight or obese (although underweight and stunting rates are also high), as are 27.4% of Australian children. Diabetes rates in both currently are rising alarmingly, as are, in older groups, rates of heart disease and stroke.

Part of this increase in global waistlines is directly attributable to the consumption of Sugar Sweetened Beverages (SSBs), although many other factors are also important contributors to weight gain. Since 2007, global soft drinks companies have shifted a great deal of their marketing energy and budgets to social media and other forms of online engagement. Since the proliferation of smart phones started in earnest in 2007, and social media uptake starting growing exponentially in the early 2010s, these multinational companies have become global pioneers in the use of social media marketing, ensuring high levels of engagement that seems to translate into increasing sales.

This presentation examines the social media marketing of market leaders Red Bull and Coke Cola in particular, in the context of a broader look at the targeting of young people via social media by food multinationals globally. Drawing on the concept of scalable sociality, the presentation argues that Social Media on Smart Phones is a particularly intimate medium, unlike any previous marketing platforms, which appears to increase uptake of highly energy concentrated SSBs, which may be linked to upticks in weight gain in both middle income (South Africa) and high income (Australia) contexts.+


Harry Dugmore is the Director of the Centre for Health Journalism and digital journalism studies coordinator at Rhodes University’s School of Journalism and Media Studies in Grahamstown, South Africa. Harry has a long-standing interest in the media’s ability to influence health behaviours and shape health identities. In the 1990s, Harry co-wrote the first four seasons of South Africa’s most popular soap opera, the health behaviour change programme  Soul City and was, from 2001 to 2006, a manager of Khomanani, the then South African government’s HIV, AIDS and TB national mass media–based behaviour change campaign. Harry’s current health-related research and teaching interests include media representations of obesity and NCDs, digital health journalism, participatory journalism, and the media’s role in shaping sexualities and sexual identities.

He was lead author of The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) consensus study Diversity in Human Sexuality: Implications for Policy in Africa, published in 2015. Harry is the South African research coordinator the Journalism Students across the Globe (Professionalization, Identity and Challenges in a Changing Environment) project that is examining the views of journalism students across 30 countries. Harry is on sabbatical and affiliated to QUT during 2018.

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