Study Finds Junk Food Ads Disproportionately Target Black And Hispanic Kids

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children watching TV

Image: iStock / Wavebreakmedia

If you’ve watched regular TV at all in the last couple of years, you might have been surprised by some of the commercials that run during a broadcast. First of all, there are SO MANY ads targeted toward kids, tweens, and teens. Ads for toys, tech and apps, and of course, food. Snacks, cereals, treats, drinks – you name it, there’s a commercial for it. They can seem random and it feels like they’re trying to sell a product across the board. However, a new study shows that the ways companies are targeting some of these ads isn’t random at all. Researchers have found that junk food ads disproportionately target Black and Hispanic kids. The data also shows that the disparity between ads targeted to white kids and those targeting minority kids is growing.

The targeted marketing report, released by Rudd Center, foound that junk food ads are disproportionately targeting Black and Hispanic kids.

Between 2013 and 2017, companies spent 4% less on TV advertising for food, beverages, and restaurants overall. However, ads specifically designed to target Black kids increased by 50%, from $217 million to $313 million. Additionally, the report found that Hispanic children and teens were exposed to more junk food ads. They watched, on average, 2 Spanish-language food ads in addition to ads seen on English-language TV.

The problem is, companies rarely advertise healthy food and drink choices. They’re not running ads for kale and salad, after all. Jennifer Harris is a lead author of the study and director of marketing initiatives for the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut. She says, “The money put towards such advertisements is less than 3 percent for the general population and less than 1 percent to Blacks and Hispanics.” Researchers looked at ad spending for 32 different food and beverage companies in 2017. Food companies spent an average of $11 billion on ads that year, with 80% used to advertise sugary drinks, junk food, snacks, and fast food.

When it comes to junk food ads targeted to Hispanic audiences on Spanish-language TV, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Subway, and Taco Bell ranked at the top in terms of spending. Taco Bell, Domino’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and Arby’s ranked highest for ad spending on Black-targeted TV.

These targeted junk food ads can contribute to poor nutrition in some demographics. But another factor is lack of access.

junk food ads

Image: Department of Agriculture, Centers for Disease Control

A food desert is where 33% of residents live at least a mile away from a grocery store. Additionally, 20% of residents live below the poverty line. These food deserts are, by and large, disproportionately located in Black and Hispanic communities. Communities where, as we now know, ad companies are bombarding families with ads for unhealthy (but comparatively cheap) food options. If someone lives three miles from a grocery store and doesn’t have a car, but lives down the block from McDonald’s, they’re going to choose the easier, faster option.

It’s sobering research, but is such an important topic. Our kids are being taken advantage of, and poverty is being exploited for profit by these companies.