Companies Target Black, Latino Youth Disproportionately In TV Ads For Unhealthy Foods

Written by Ann Brown

It’s hard enough for parents to get their kids to eat healthily so imagine how much harder it is when your child is bombarded with TV ads for unhealthy food?

A new study has found that Black and Latino kids are targeted disproportionately by companies that advertise unhealthy food compared with white kids.

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Companies advertise their unhealthy products to susceptible communities, according to a report released by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut.

unhealthy food
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From 2013 to 2017, spending on TV advertising for restaurants, food and beverages decreased by 4 percent overall, but spending for programs directed at Black teens increased by 50 percent — from $217 million to $333 million, NBC News reported. This underscores the disparity in exposure to advertising between white and Black youth.

The ads are not specifically targeting Blacks and Latinos, but rather they are placed on programs in which “Black viewers comprised 50 percent or more of the audience and networks that were Spanish-language and viewed in Hispanic households,” according to the authors of the report. This calculation was made by the marketing service Nielsen. The foods featured on these ads, the report said, tend to be high in fat, sodium and calories, and low in nutrition, ABC reported.

McDonald’s, Pepsi, and similar companies spent more than a $1 billion from their marketing budgets on ads targeting Black and Latino youth. Consider this: Coca-Cola and Nestle doubled spending on Spanish-language advertising between 2013 and 2017.

“McDonald’s, Subway, Wendy’s, and Taco Bell ranked at the top for targeted advertising spending on Spanish-language TV; and Taco Bell, Domino’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and Arby’s ranked at the top in targeted advertising spending on Black-targeted TV, in part, due to higher total advertising budgets,” NBC News reported.

“The (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) budget for chronic disease prevention and health promotion is $1 billion a year,” said Dr. Jennifer Harris, the report’s lead author and the Rudd Center’s director of marketing initiatives, in an ABC News report. “These companies are spending $11 billion (on their ads).”

Overall, all children watched 10 food-related ads daily. Black children viewed 16 or more commercials. In 2017, Black children and teens watched 86 percent and 119 percent more ads from these companies, respectively. A whopping 8 out of 10 ads seen by Black and Latino children were for unhealthy food products, versus one in 20 for healthy products.

“Food companies hardly ever market fruit and vegetables, water or healthy juices,” Harris told NBC News. “The money put towards such (healthy) advertisements is less than 3 percent for the general population and less than 1 percent to Blacks and Hispanics.”

This, of course, puts Black and Latino youth at risk for obesity and other health issues in communities where there are limited healthy food options.

“Food and beverage companies have to stop taking advantage of our kids,” said Shiriki Kumanyika, a study co-author and chair of the Council on Black Health at Drexel, on NBC News. “They inadvertently contribute to poor health in Black communities by heavily promoting products linked to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.”