Posted on August 19, 2015

Junk Food Ads on TV Tend to Target African-American and Latino Youth

Sasha Harris-Lovett, Los Angeles Times, August 19, 2015


African-American children and teens in the U.S. are more than twice as likely to see an advertisement for candy and soda on TV than their white counterparts. And healthier foods that are often seen in television ads for the general population, like yogurt, are unlikely to appear on TV channels targeted to African-American and Latino viewers, according to the report. The findings were presented this week at the annual National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media in Atlanta.

“Black and Latino kids have higher rates of obesity and other diet-related diseases,” said Jennifer Harris, the study’s lead researcher from the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut. “If the (food) companies are purchasing more advertising in (ethnically) targeted media, then they could actually be contributing to the health disparities in these communities with their marketing practices.”

Racial disparities in obesity rates continue into adulthood. Among American adults, 47.8 percent of African-Americans are obese, compared with 42.5 percent of Latinos and 32.6 percent of whites, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers analyzed the marketing strategies of 267 food brands from 26 major companies (including Hershey’s, Kraft Foods, and General Mills) that spent over $100 million on advertising in 2013 or that had pledged to only advertise healthier foods to children. Using market research data on how much money and TV airtime each food company used for targeted advertising for Spanish-speaking Latinos, African-Americans, and children and teens, the researchers were able to determine what kinds of ads people of different ethnicities and ages were watching.


In general, ads for candy, sugary drinks, gum and savory snacks like chips were more likely to target African-American and Latino consumers, while ads for healthier dairy, juice, water, fruits and vegetables were less likely to target those populations. “The same company might be promoting unhealthy foods in the Hispanic community and promoting healthier foods in the general community,” said Amelie Ramirez, director of the Salud America! Latino childhood obesity prevention network and a researcher at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

“Over two-thirds of the Spanish TV ads that are directed to (Latino children) are really pushing fast food, sugary drinks, candy and snacks,” she said. In comparison, only 3 percent of the ads Latino children and teens saw promoted healthier options.

“We’re really concerned about this because 39 percent of Hispanic and Latino children between the ages of 2 and 19 are already either overweight or obese,” Ramirez added.