Report: Latino and Black Kids Targeted With Junk Food Ads, Linked to Obesity

By Kenrya Rankin Aug 12, 2015

A new study shows that black and Latino children are being disproportionately targeted by ads for junk food—and it’s making them fat.

Conducted by Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, the African American Collaborative on Obesity Research and Salud America!, the study examines how companies advertise sugar-laden soda, high-fat snacks and massive-calorie restaurant fare to people of color and how those foods are impacting youth obesity rates. 

Researchers analyzed advertising, product placement, sponsorships and philanthropic programs for 26 food and beverage companies and restaurants (and their combined 267 brands). They also included all companies that spent more than $100 million in advertising in 2013 and companies that voluntarily participate in a self-regulatory program called the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI).

In the end, researchers found that a total of 48 brands were advertising directly to children and teens, and they were all significantly more likely to target those ads at Latino and black kids. The result is that young blacks see 70 percent more food-related advertising than their white counterparts, and twice as many television ads for candy, and sugar snacks and drinks. Snickers, Hershey’s Candy Bar, Twix and M&Ms all ranked in the top 10 of packed food brands advertised specifically to Latinos, to the tune of more than $12.8 million on Spanish-language television ads alone. The report also found that companies are significantly less likely to market healthy foods and drinks to black and brown people.

“It wasn’t surprising that there was more unhealthy stuff targeted to black and Hispanic consumers,” the study’s lead author Jennifer Harris told the Hartford Courant. “What was surprising was the lack of healthy stuff. Almost all the advertising was for fast food, candy and sugary drinks.’”

With obesity rates for black and Hispanic children and teens at 20.2 percent and 20.5 percent, respectively (versus 14.1 for non-Hispanic whites), the researchers concluded that the high volume of ads for nutritionally poor food likely contributes to these health disparities.

“This is a clear case of tactics that must be profitable from the business perspective but at the cost of fostering an environment that promotes poor health in black and Hispanic youth in particular,” said Shiriki Kumanyika, chair of the African American Collaborative Obesity Research Network, in a press release.

The report includes recommendations for reversing this situation, including: narrowing the CFBAI’s definition of “healthier food choices,” halting the direct targeting of junk food to people under the age of 18, and lobbying media companies to establish nutrition guidelines for products advertised via their properties.