Since the 1970s, the volume of fast food restaurants across the country has more than doubled, which means everyone with a television is bombarded with McDonald’s and Taco Bell ads. However, a recent study has revealed that black children are being exposed to more junk food advertising than their white peers.
The study, published last week in the journal Pediatric Obesity, examined data from 2008 through 2012, comparing the rates at which black and white youth view advertising from junk food companies, including fast food chains, snack manufacturers, and soda vendors.
F. Fleming-Milici and J.L. Harris, both researchers from the University of Connecticut, discovered that “food advertising exposure increased with age for both black and white youth, but black youth viewed approximately 50% more ads than did white youth of the same age.”
According to their findings, black pre-schoolers see 16.9 ads per week, while white pre-schoolers see 10.3. Black children between the ages of six and 11 see 17.4 advertisements, compared to 11.7 for their white peers. Finally, black teenagers between 12 and 17 see 24.2 ads to white teens’ 14.8.
This data is consistent with prior research; however, the study goes even further, suggesting that the disparity in volume of junk food ads may be due in part to the different television shows and networks the children watch at home. For instance, researchers have found that black children are more likely to watch VH1, BET, Fuse, and Nick-at-Nite, and many fast food companies choose to air more ads on these networks than others.
“Determining the intentions of [food] companies is challenging,” said Fleming-Milici. “But we use the same data that companies use to place their ads. Ads are placed to reach a certain demographic.”
In their study, the researchers wrote, “Higher rates of food advertising on youth-targeted networks explained greater adolescent exposure. However, greater television viewing and higher rates of advertising on youth- and black-targeted networks both contributed to black youth’s greater exposure.”
In other words, junk food companies regard black youth as their target audience. This raises concerns that black children are being set up for a lifelong battle with obesity and additional health problems.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20% of black children are obese, compared to 14.7% of white children. Unfortunately, childhood obesity often turns into adulthood obesity; nearly half of all black adults are obese, compared to 34.5% of their white peers.