REPORT: Companies Target Black and Latinx Youth With Junk Food Ads

By Ayana Byrd Jan 15, 2019

A new study confirms what many have long suspected—when food companies target Black and Latinx youth with their advertising, they nearly always focus on fast food, candy, sugar-laden drinks and other unhealthy choices.

Titled "Increasing Disparities in Unhealthy Food Advertising Targeted to Hispanic and Black Youth," the study was released today (January 15) by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity. In it, researchers from the University of Connecticut, Drexel University and the University of Texas Health Science Center detailed how 86 percent of food ads purchased on Black-targeted TV programming were unhealthy, as were 82 percent of the ads on Spanish-language television in the United States. Candy companies were the segment of the food industry that most disproportionately advertised to these demographics.

The report also explains that advertising for healthy items (such as 100 percent fruit juice, nuts and water) only comprised 1 percent of Black-targeted ads and zero percent of Spanish-language television ones. In "general market" advertising, 3 percent is spent on healthy food options.

Per UConn Today:


In 2017, food companies spent almost $11 billion in total television advertising in 2017, including $1.1 billion on advertising in Black-targeted and Spanish-language programming, say researchers.


The companies increased their Black-targeted television ad spending by more than 50 percent from 2013 to 2017, even though their total advertising spending on all TV programming declined by 4 percent, according to the researchers. Black teens saw more than twice as many ads for unhealthy products compared to White teens in 2017.

“Food companies have introduced healthier products and established corporate responsibility programs to support health and wellness among their customers, but this study shows that they continue to spend 8 of 10 television advertising dollars on fast food, candy, sugary drinks and unhealthy snacks, with even more advertising for these products targeted to Black and Hispanic youth,” Jennifer Harris, a report author and the Rudd Center’s director of marketing initiatives, told UConn Today.

According to the report:


Unhealthy food marketing aimed at youth under age 18 is a significant contributor to poor diets and diet-related diseases. Therefore, greater exposure to this marketing by Hispanic and Black children and teens, both in the media and in their communities, likely contributes to diet-related health disparities affecting communities of color, including obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

“At best, these advertising patterns imply that food companies view Black consumers as interested in candy, sugary drinks, fast food and snacks with a lot of salt, fat or sugar, but not in healthier foods,” study author Shiriki Kumanyika, who is also chair of the Council on Black Health at Drexel, told UConn Today.

Read the full report here.