Junk food advertising targets African-American and Hispanic kids

Global Business

Cartoon Junk food advertisement

There’s nothing new about flooding the airwaves with enticing TV ads promoting junk food, especially to kids, but there’s a disturbing trend in food advertising that’s targeting African Americans and Hispanics. CGTN’s May Lee takes a closer look.

If you watch TV, then ads pushing junk food are familiar, but according to a recent study, African American and Hispanic consumers in the U.S. are disproportionately exposed to junk food and sugary drinks commercials.

The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut found that of the more than $1 billion spent annually on advertising to blacks and hispanics, 86 percent of spending targeting black consumers and 82 percent aimed at hispanics was for junk food and sugary drinks.

Food policy expert Michael Roberts has seen this kind of data before, but the impact is no less shocking.

“I’ve been at this for a long time” says Roberts, “and I was amazed, not just in television advertising, but social media advertising, video games, etc. etc., and it really caught me off guard.”

The advertising blitz isn’t the only problem for lower income communities of color. There’s also the lack of healthy food options. These areas are called food deserts, places where there are no quality grocery stores or healthy restaurants. Instead, the neighborhood is overrun with fast food chains and convenience stores.

That’s where non-profit groups like PHFE Women, Infant and Children, or WIC come into play. They provide educational and nutritional services to low-income families, who often have higher health risks.

There are nearly 50 centers throughout Southern California, which serve more than 200,000 people every month… people like Maria Zarate who has learned to make better choices for her kids. But she’s well aware of the food industry’s tactics.

“They don’t worry about their health”, Zarate says. “They don’t worry about what problems they could cause them. They don’t think about the kids at all. They just think about themselves making money maybe, that’s pretty much it.”

WIC Dietician Jennifer Torres admits it sometimes feels like a David and Goliath situation.

Torres says, “It is an uphill battle. There can always be more resources, more programs that are going to help our families get that knowledge to help them understand what’s behind a food label, or what is behind that ad. Or not all advertised foods are healthy foods.”

But it’s also about taking legal action against companies pushing junk food.

Michael Roberts says, “If the advertising is actually creating unfairness in the market place and one could argue that this kind of advertising is doing just that, then presumably a lawsuit, a cause of action could be filed under state law. We haven’t really seen that attempted, but it’s there, and it’s a possibility.”

But there’s a hurdle… the first amendment, which protects free speech and that includes commercial speech.

All the more reason that nutritional advocates like PHFE WIC embrace the adage, “Knowledge is power,” which in turn can help level the playing field for communities that need it most.

Rosalie Aguilar on junk food ads targeted to ethnic groups in the U.S.

For more about fast food advertising that targets African-American and Hispanic children, CGTN’s Rachelle Akuffo spoke to Rosalie Aguilar, National Project Coordinator of Salud America at UT Health San Antonio.