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Brands and Marketers Disproportionately Targeting Hispanic and Black Youth: Report

First Posted: Nov 05, 2015 05:17 PM EST
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Nutritionally-poor and unhealthy snacks have become increasingly present in television advertisements within the past five years, despite promises to regulate youth exposure to sugary, high-calorie food. A new report on marketing and snack food nutrition has found that Hispanic and black youth are disproportionate viewers of ads promoting unhealthy savory and sweet snacks.

According to a report published by UCONN Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity on Nov. 4, "Evaluating snack food nutrition and marketing to youth," children and teens have been increasingly exposed to ads featuring fruit snacks, chips and cookies. From 2010 to 2014, unhealthy advertisements have been increasinly featured on English-language and Spanish-language networks, while healthier snacks were underrepresented. Also, not only are Hispanic and black children are far more likely to be targeted with unhealthy snacks, the nutritional quality of advertising targeted to Hispanic youth on Spanish-language TV worsened from 2010 to 2014.

Even as some companies managed to develop healthier snacks in order to meet the nutritional standards of snacks sold within schools, those snacks, with the exception of yogurt, fail to appear in television advertisement. With that said, yogurt ads have declined 93 percent on Spanish-language television. Also, there wasn't a single fruit brand advertised on Spanish-language networks. From 2010 to 2014, there was a 551 percent increase in spending on savory snake ads, and sweet snack ads increased by 30 percent on Spanish language television. Likewise, black children saw 64 percent more snack food ads than their white counterparts in 2014.

Kellogg Company spent $12.9 million in 2014 to market Cheez-It, PopTarts and Pringles brands to Hispanic consumers, increasing Spanish-language ad spending 253 percent from 2010 to 2014. Hispanic preschoolers viewed the most snack food ads on Spanish-language television, averaging 87 ads in 2014, which was significantly higher than the 53 and 59 ads viewed by Hispanic children and teens, respectively. Hispanic youth are 30 percent more likely than all youth to visit websites for popular snack brands, likely due to their regular small screen exposure to those brands. Also, Hispanic youth were 60 percent more likely than their peers to visit both Special K.com and Yoplait.com.

"Companies have recognized the business opportunity in marketing healthy snacks to children and teens in schools. Now they must also recognize that aggressive marketing of unhealthy snack foods to young people is not worth the cost to children's health," said Jennifer Harris, Ph.D., an author of the study and the Rudd Center's Director of Marketing Initiatives, in a press release.

Unhealthy marketing inspires poor consumption choices and encourages higher rates of obesity and diet-related diseases among Hispanic and black youth, who are disproportionally targeted by unwholesome brands and products. The report provided opportunities for improvement, which include CFBAI companies upgrading the nutritional quality of advertised sweet and savory snack products; implementing Smart Snacks nutrition standards for products advertised to children; incorporating qualitative measures to identify advertising that appeals specifically to children, and implementing meaningful measures to protect children under age 6 from all advertising. Most importantly, marketing practices should refrain from disproportionately directing unhealthy snack foods to young people of color.

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