A new report examining TV food advertising viewed by preschoolers, children and teens found that African-American youths are disproportionately exposed to junk food ads, viewing almost 50 percent more ads for unhealthy snacks than their white counterparts.
The study, conducted by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, attributed the concerning disparities to increased television watching time among Black children. But that fact by itself still didn’t explain why Black children were seeing ads for fast food and other unhealthy food options at much higher rates.
According to the report, junk food companies have increasingly advertised on networks with particularly high African-American and adolescent viewerships such as Fuse, BET, Vh1 and Nick-at-Nite. Jumps in food-ads-per-hour also contributed to increased exposure to junk food ads for youths of all ages between 2008 and 2012.
“Higher rates of food advertising on youth-targeted networks explained greater adolescent exposure,” the study read. “However, greater television viewing and higher rates of advertising on youth- and black-targeted networks both contributed to black youths’ greater exposure.”
In 2012, the report found that Black youths viewed considerably more food ads compared with white youths of the same age. For instance, Black children aged 2 to 5 viewed 64 percent more food ads, while Black youths aged 6 to 11 saw 49 percent more ads than their white counterparts. Moreover, the younger African-American children viewed approximately two more junk-food ads per day than even the older white kids.
Researchers noted that this increased exposure to low-nutrition food ads also made Black children more vulnerable to becoming obese and developing other diet-related health issues. Data from 2011 to 2012 revealed a stark gap in child obesity rates between Black and white youths: Eleven percent of Black children aged 2 to 5 were obese during this time, while just 3.5 percent of white children were. The disparity got larger as the kids grew older, with 23.8 percent of African-American children aged 6 to 11 being obese compared to 13.1 percent of their white peers.
The report pointed to a greater number of billboards advertising unhealthy food options in predominately Black neighborhoods as another possible culprit behind these concerning health figures.
“Understanding the relative contribution of factors leading to greater TV [and billboard] food advertising exposure for adolescents and Black youths is necessary to identify effective solutions to counter its harmful effects,” the study read. “Understanding the reasons for their greater TV viewing and identifying opportunities to reduce viewing would help address [these] health disparities affecting Black youths.”
Frances Fleming-Milici, a marketing researcher and the lead author of the Rudd study, said it’s no coincidence that junk-food companies have increasingly advertised on Black-targeted networks but admitted that it is sometimes difficult to determine the intentions of the food companies the Rudd Center challenges.
“[Rudd] uses the same data that companies use to place their ads,” Fleming-Milici told The Washington Post. “Ads are placed to reach a certain demographic.”