Increasing disparities in unhealthy food advertising targeted to Hispanic and Black youth

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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. A new report on targeted food marketing by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity University of Connecticut,  the Council on Black Health , and Salud America! assessed whether the 10 companies with the most targeted advertising spending documented in the Rudd Center’s 2015 report have made changes in their targeted advertising.

By collecting  data on advertising expenditures on Spanish-language and Black-targeted TV programming by company, brand and product category, the study identified  television advertising targeted to Hispanic and Black consumers.

From 2013 to 2017, the total amount that companies spent to advertise restaurants, food, and beverages on all types of TV programming declined by just 4% (from $11.4 billion to $10.9 billion). However, greatly reduced TV viewing by children and teens resulted in large reductions in exposure to food-related TV ads: -28% for children and -43% for teens overall.

Despite this decline, on average children and teens continued to view approximately 10 food-related TV ads per day in 2017. Total food-related advertising spending on Spanish-language TV also declined by 4% over the past five years (from $817 million in 2013 to $787 million in 2017), and reductions in TV viewing and food-related ads viewed by Hispanic youth mirrored declines for all youth. In contrast, total food-related advertising spending on Black-targeted TV increased by more than 50% from 2013 to 2017 ($217 million to $333 million). Disparities between Black and White youth in exposure to all food-related TV ads also increased. In 2013, Black children and teens viewed 70% more food ads than their White peers viewed.

In 2017, these disparities grew to 86% more ads viewed by Black children compared to White children and 119% more ads viewed by Black teens than by White teens. On average in 2017, Black children and teens saw 16.4 and 17.1 food-related TV ads-per-day, respectively. This increased disparity in ads viewed resulted from increased food-related spending on Black-targeted TV advertising as well as greater declines in TV watching among white than Black children.

The authors of the report call on food manufacturers to market healthy products to Black and Hispanic consumers and for fast-food, candy, sugary drink, and unhealthy snack food brands to stop disproportionately targeting their advertising in Spanish-language and Black-targeted media. Public health advocacy campaigns should also focus on improving marketing practices of companies that disproportionately target Hispanic and Black youth and explore opportunities to engage youth of color in campaigns to address targeted food marketing as a social justice issue.

Read the full report.

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