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Fast-food companies target blacks and latinos with ads for greasiest and most sugary foods, new report says


A new report shows fast-food companies are spending big money on ads that target minorities. (cookelma / Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The unhealthiest food and drink is overwhelmingly on the menu for black and Hispanic youth – at least that’s how food marketers seem to want it.

Food companies take aim at black and Hispanic youths with “ads almost exclusively for fast food, candy, sugary drinks, and unhealthy snacks,” said a report released Tuesday by researchers at three U.S. universities.

In 2017 a whopping 86% of the advertising dollars spent on food ads went toward promoting fast food, candy, sugary drinks, and unhealthy snacks on black-targeted TV programming, said the study done by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut, the Council on Black Health at Drexel University, and Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio. Such ads took up 82% of the spending on Spanish-language television, the study said.

“Unhealthy food marketing aimed at youth is a contributor to poor diets and related diseases, like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease,” Salud America! said in a statement. “Targeting Latino and Black youth with unhealthy marketing contributes to disparities in health.”

The food companies spent nearly $11 billion in total television advertising in 2017, including $1.1 billion on advertising in black-targeted and Spanish-language TV programming, the researchers said.

This even as companies scaled down advertising budgets overall, and enhanced healthy food offerings – an option they did not show to black and Hispanic teens.

“Food companies have introduced healthier products and established corporate responsibility programs to support health and wellness among their customers, but this study shows that they continue to spend eight of 10 TV advertising dollars on fast food, candy, sugary drinks, and unhealthy snacks, with even more advertising for these products targeted to Black and Hispanic youth,” said Jennifer Harris, the report’s lead author and the Rudd Center’s director of Marketing Initiatives, in a statement.

Between 2013 and 2017 the companies boosted their spending on ads targeting black television viewers by more than 50%, “even though their total advertising spending on all TV programming declined by 4 percent,” the study found. “Black teens saw more than twice as many ads for unhealthy products compared to white teens in 2017.”

Kraft Heinz, General Mills, Hershey, PepsiCo and chains such as KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut were the biggest targeters of black and Hispanic youth. They were also bombarded with ads from Mars, Nestle, McDonald's and General Mills.

Hershey spokesman Jeff Beckman told CNN there was no overall strategy of marketing to children.

“There is a significant difference between ‘targeting’ and ‘reaching’ consumers,” he told CNN. “With iconic brands that are loved across virtually all demographics (age, race, income), we buy our TV spots on the outlets and programs that reach the broadest cross section of the American adult population.”

Whatever it’s called, it was the product marketed rather than the marketing itself that caused a problem for the authors.

“Although targeted marketing is not problematic in and of itself, target advertising for products that are high in sugar, fat, sodium, and calories to Latino and Black consumers is a public health issue,” Salud America! said.