It's no surprise that fast-food joints, junk-food manufacturers and candy companies blow a huge percentage of their advertising budgets trying to get your kid's attention. In the United States, food companies spend more than $1 billion every year trying to sell sugar, soda and other empty-calorie delivery devices to kids and teens. That said, a recent study shows that black children and teenagers are exposed to several thousand more junk food commercials every year than white teens are.
Researchers at the University of Connecticut's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity studied four years' worth of Nielsen viewing data covering the period between 2008 and 2012 to break down these ad buys by network type, age group, and race. According to the study, which was published this week in the journal Pediatric Obesity, kids and teens from both demographic groups saw more food-related ads in 2012 than they did in 2008, but black children and teenagers saw 50 percent more of these commercials than their white counterparts.
"Despite little change in viewing time by young people of all ages over the four years studied, there was an increase in exposure to ads for food and beverages and the disparity in exposure increased between black and white youth," lead study author Fran Fleming Milici told MUNCHIES.
The amount of time black preschoolers and teens spent watching television did increase slightly during that time period, but the advertisers also seem to know what they're doing. The number of food, soda, and snack commercials-per-hour have increased on all networks, but the biggest increase in commercials-per-hour were measured on networks with high youth viewership or high black viewership, including Fuse, Nick-at-Nite, BET and VH1.
"We found higher rates of advertising during black- and youth-targeted networks, and these were viewed disproportionately more by black youth when compared to white youth," Fleming Milici said. "Our research does not suggest we know the intentions of food marketers. However, we utilize Nielsen data to determine exposure, and that is the same data advertisers use to place ads."
Fleming Milici and her colleagues discovered that television programs with a large black audience had more all-around food advertising and more ads for crappy, unhealthy foods than the programs targeted toward a more general audience. That combination of increased daily screen time and those additional food commercials add up: black preschoolers, children, and teens see anywhere between 2,000 and 3,400 more food ads every year than white kids in the same 2- to 17-year-old age demographic.
If there is a solution, it will be a complicated one that doesn't just involve turning the television off. The Rudd Center researchers discovered that both black and white kids of all ages are exceeding the American Academy of Pediatrics suggested limit of two hours of daily TV time, but this kind of unhealthily biased advertising isn't just limited to what's on that box. A 2014 study discovered that actual fast-food restaurants in middle income, rural and black communities attempted to attract youth and teens by highlighting their kid's menu items or using cartoon characters or sports figures in their ads.