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US food and beverage companies disproportionately target Black and Latino consumers with advertising for high-calorie, low-nutrient products, including candy, sugary drinks, and snacks, according to a new study by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Health at the University of Connecticut.
This targeted advertising has been a problem for years and is consistent with findings from other studies and reports, including the recent US Access to Nutrition Index 2022.
The millions of dollars companies spend on targeted marketing contributes to inequities in diet-related diseases in communities of color, including heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
“Companies express how much they respect the culture and concerns of Black and Hispanic communities, but at the same time, they appear to ignore the negative health impacts of the products they promote to Black and Hispanic youth,” said Fran Fleming-Milici, PhD, study co-author and the Rudd Center’s director of Marketing Initiatives.
Companies Responsible for Targeted Food and Beverage Advertising
The Rudd Center analyzed TV advertising by all food and beverage companies.
However, 19 companies were responsible for 75% of all TV food and beverage advertising spending, 79% of Spanish-language TV advertising, and 82% of Black-targeted TV advertising.
These companies included:
- Kellogg Company
- The Coca-Cola Company
- The Hershey Company
- General Mills
- Mondelez International
- The Kraft Heinz Company
- Ferrero USA
- Nestle USA
- Keurig Dr Pepper
- Red Bull
- Campbell Soup Company
- Unilever United States
- Tyson Foods
- Danone North America
- The Wonderful Company
- Post Foods
- Conagra Brands, Inc.
Food and Beverage Advertising Spending Breakdown
Advertising for candy, sugary drinks, snacks, and cereals represented three-quarters of Spanish-language and Black-targeted TV ad spending in 2021, up from approximately one-half each in 2017.
Additionally, companies increased their focus on advertising to Spanish-speaking audiences from 2017 to 2021, increasing the proportion of TV ad dollars dedicated to Spanish-language TV (7.8% vs. 8.5%).
“Hispanics are a proud, diverse, culturally rich population that is now the largest racial/ethnic minority in the United States. Yet, food and beverage companies continue to bombard Hispanic families with targeted marketing for unhealthy food, which contributes to the health disparities that face this population,” said Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez, study co-author and director of Salud America! at the Institute for Health Promotion Research at UT Health San Antonio.
Food and Beverage Marketing Strategies
The marketing strategies behind ethnically targeted food and beverage advertisements are alarmingly effective in influencing Black and Latino consumers.
For example, the study found that many advertising campaigns incorporated hip-hop and Latinx music celebrities and other youth-oriented themes.
“Celebrity endorsements significantly influence the company’s bottom-line. In fact, the immediate or short-term sales effects of celebrity endorsements are well-established by several studies,” according to a 2021 Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services study.
Additionally, the study found that companies have also increased the proportion of advertising budgets allocated to digital advertising.
This means that even if consumers spend less time watching TV, they could still see unhealthy food advertisements through digital platforms, such as social media.
Given the vast popularity of social media, especially among younger generations, continued and further exposure to unhealthy food and beverage advertisements on social media could have detrimental health effects.
Implications of Ethnically Targeted Food Advertising
Whether seen on TV or other digital platforms, unhealthy TV food and beverage advertising negatively impacts the health of Black and Latino consumers.
In fact, an unhealthy diet is the top risk of early death in the US.
Communities of color already face food-related health inequities that lead to poor health, such as food insecurity and one-third fewer grocery stores and farmer’s markets than White neighborhoods.
“The continued targeted advertising for high-calorie, low-nutrient products to these vulnerable communities is simply unacceptable. Hispanics deserve access to, and promotion of, healthier foods and drinks,” Dr. Ramirez said.
What Can We Do to Promote Health Equity in Food and Beverage Marketing?
Actions speak louder than words.
“If the industry really values these consumers, companies will take responsibility for advertising that encourages poor diet and related diseases. They can start by eliminating the marketing of unhealthy products to Hispanic youth and families,” Dr. Ramirez added.
Other ways to promote health equity in food and beverage marketing includes media companies establishing nutrition standards for the products they chose to advertise.
Policymakers can also support legislation to address unhealthy TV food and beverage advertising.
You can also help.
Select your county and get a Health Equity Report Card by Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio.
In your report card, you will see maps, data, and gauges to compare health equity issues, including access to fast food restaurants and grocery stores, to the rest of your state and nation.
Email your report card to local leaders and share on social media to raise awareness and action.
Get your Health Equity Report Card!
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By The Numbers
for every Latino neighborhood, compared to 3 for every non-Latino neighborhood