Black Youth Exposed to Junk Food Ads at Greater Rates, Study Says

An analysis of TV-viewing patterns and related exposure to ads provides answers, and leads to the question, what are the health implications?

By Sheryl Estrada

Television ads promoting high-calorie fast food, sugary snacks and beverages are targeted toward Black adolescents more than any other demographic, according to a new study.

The study, which is the first comprehensive examination of television-viewing patterns and related exposure to food and beverage ads by age group, was published on Thursday in Pediatric Obesity by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut.

Black Youth Exposed to Junk Food Ads at Greater Rates, Study SaysThe highest rates of unhealthy food advertising appeared during programming targeted to youth under age 18, the study found. However, it was discovered that Black youth viewed approximately 50 percent or more ads than did white youth of the same age.

The researchers indicate that Black youth spend more time watching both “youth-targeted” and “Black-targeted” networks, such as Fuse, Nick-at-Nite, BET and VH1. These are also the networks that air the most food advertisements, researchers found.

“Black-targeted networks contributed a significantly higher proportion of ads for candy, fast food and other restaurants, baked goods, and carbonated beverages viewed by Black youth,” according to the study.

Children’s programming (including Disney XD and non-commercial programming) averaged the lowest rates. The study found that food advertising exposure increased with age for both Black and white youth.

The researchers used Nielsen (No. 41 on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list) data to compare the amount of TV viewing and the number of food advertisements viewed by network type (including Black-targeted, and child- and youth-targeted), age group (children, ages 2-5 and 6-11, and adolescents, ages 12-17), and race, and measured changes from 2008 to 2012.

According to Nielsen, “African Americans watch the most television of any group, watching nearly 200 hours per month—roughly 60 more hours than the total audience.”

Frances Fleming-Milici, lead author of the study, and a research associate for the Rudd Center, said she found the results distressing.

“It was troubling to find that, despite little change in TV viewing time by young people of all ages over the four years, their exposure to food and beverage ads increased, and the increase for Black young people was even greater,” Fleming-Milici said in a statement.

Adolescent Obesity

An analysis of TV-viewing patterns and related exposure to ads provides answers, and leads to the question, what are the health implications?African American adolescent girls ages 12–19, have the highest prevalence of obesity of any group by gender, race or ethnicity.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that among girls in the 2009–2010 survey period, Black adolescents (24.8 percent) were significantly more likely to be obese compared with white adolescents (14.7 percent).

Similarly, from 1988–1994, Black adolescent girls (16.3 percent) were more likely to be obese compared with white adolescent girls (8.9 percent). 

Diabetes, Black Youth and “Skin-Deep Resilience”

The American Diabetes Association states that the rates of diagnosed diabetes among African Americans is at 13.2 percent, compared to 7.6 percent of whites, 9 percent of Asian Americans, 12.8 percent of Latinos, and 15.9 percent of American Indians/Alaskan Natives.

About 208,000 Americans under age 20 are estimated to have diagnosed diabetes, approximately 0.25 percent of that population. But, according to the CDC, an estimated 86 million Americans are living with prediabetes, a serious health condition that increases a person’s risk of type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases.

A recent study actually examined how high-achieving Black youth from disadvantaged backgrounds are at a high risk for developing type 2 diabetes during adulthood.

“Resilience in Adolescence, Health, and Psychosocial Outcomes,” published in the American Academy of Pediatrics this month, reports that high-striving Black youth from the most disadvantaged homes were more than twice as likely to develop diabetes by age 29 as high-achieving Black teens from more affluent homes.

“We reasoned that, if disadvantaged children were succeeding academically and emotionally, they might also be protected from health problems that were more common in lower-income youth,” lead study author Gene Brody of the University of Georgia in Athens told Reuters. “As it turned out, the exact opposite was true.”

Brody added, “These young people were achieving success by all the conventional markers: doing well academically, staying out of trouble, making friends, and developing a positive sense of self. Underneath, however, their physical health was deteriorating.”

He refers to the youth as having “skin-deep resilience.” Usually found in adults, this means that resilient and high-achieving Black youth from disadvantaged homes display few outward signs of the stress they endured to succeed in school and work but still having health problems under the surface.

Researchers didn’t find this pattern of skin-deep resilience in white youth.

Black youth, compared with other participants in the study, were more obese, produced more stress hormones, had higher blood pressure, had faster aging of their immune cells, and displayed a greater susceptibility to infection, Brody said.

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  • Jim Bob Lassiter

    Indeed. And the supreme irony of it all is that many of the companies who manufacture, promote and distribute the offending products are headed up by CEOs who win Diversity,Inc.trophies.

  • I noticed these types of targeted ads some time ago. Related to this is the placement of fast-food business in certain neighborhoods. For example, on a particular street in my town, there is a newly built Taco Bell across the street from a Dunkin Donuts that’s on the same block as a Ceasar’s Pizza. All are within walking distance of each other. I believe this is done deliberately and without regard to the heath concerns for the community. It’s all about making a buck not about providing affordable choices that promote a healthier lifestyle.

  • You really need a study to know your kids aren’t eating right. The biggest problem is everyone want to blame someone for there kids eating habits. Stop being lazy and make dinner and sit down at the table. It’s a fact the kids that eat as a family do better. Teach them to eat right and turn the tv off and go outside with them. Pick up a baseball or basket ball and play with them. Take them on walks and go camping form time to time. Trust me they will love it and it will create memories. Stop letting Xbox and the tv raise your kids.

    The one thing I remember my father saying during a camping trip was this. I asked what the difference was between a father and a dad. He told me anyone can be a father but not everyone is a dad. When your a dad it’s not easy at all but worth it. It’s not a right but a privilege to be one. He told me I’m not friend but your dad and when you become a man we can be friends then. It’s my job to do what’s best for you and not for me.

    This is the biggest problem I see today is people take the easy way out and blame someone for there short comings. If you want to change the world start with our children.

    God bless

  • If eating “Junk” Food by Black Children is higher than whites and this is blamed on TV Commercials, then one would think that the premier Black Communications company in the US would do something regarding the frequency and placement of those ads on their networks.

    If BET changed their schedules, I am sure other networks would do the same and then according to the article we would wind up with healthy children regardless of their skin color.

  • Damn,

    Because I do not keep up with who owns what in the US or in the world for that matter and I suggest that TV Stations take on the task of placing Commercials in different time slots or cut down on the frequency of those ads – I am referred to as a Bigot. I have been called a lot of things in my life, but a bigot is a new one for me… Damn!!!

    • You insinuated that BET had a special responsibility to not sell ad space to fast food companies because they are Black owned. That’s a bigoted assertion and assumption.

      • Mr. Visconti

        In the above article it is reported: “The researchers indicate that Black youth spend more time watching both “youth-targeted” and “Black-targeted” networks, such as Fuse, Nick-at-Nite, BET and VH1. These are also the networks that air the most food advertisements, researchers found.” Source: Black Youth Exposed to Junk Food Ads at Greater Rates, Study Published December 19, 2016
        By Sheryl Estrada

        Now I am 69 (70 in March) and yes I am white – I also live in the Philippines – I am not familiar with “Fuse”, or “Nick-at-Nite.” Nor do I know that much about VH-1, other than they seemed to be a music alternative to MTV. MTV played a lot of Rock in Roll, VH-1 seemed more mellow – I like Jazz and R&B. I am familiar with BET because of their The NAACP Image Awards Programs, support of the United Negro College Fund and other public/social programming. I also watched some of the entertainment programming – Mostly Jazz. So any comments made about BET is based on what knowledge I had about them before December 19th.

        It was your article that implied that Black Children watched Youth and Black Targeted Programming as presented on BET and that BET among other networks had aired the most Food Ads. Perhaps my follow up to that paragraph could have be written better – and perhaps Viacom makes all the advertising decisions for BET. None the less as a socially conscious Television Company, why wouldn’t BET consider changing the spots (not getting rid of them) that some advertising is in, or the frequency of the ads? Even in the Philippines there is the frequency of Ads whether it is for automotive products or Junk Food. There will be times that you will see 3-4 Burger King Ads in a row and then wonder why kids are asking their parents to buy whoppers for dinner? And the parents wonder why the child’s Blood Sugar readings are in the 250-300 range.

        I think I shared this before – I have type two diabetes due to exposure to Agent Orange. I need to give myself 3 Shots of 20 units each of Aspart Insulin and one shot of Lantus Insulin – 56 Units at bedtime. I am shooting for a 150mg/dl or less – I am at 161 now. I have little feeling in my right foot and none in my left. I walk with a Cane – I am in good health, but I will die of this disease – I have no doubt of that. I hate to see kids needing to give themselves shots, having to pass up Ice Cream and Cake, no pasta and other things that makes life so livable.

        a person who is intolerant toward those holding different opinions, as defined in my New Oxford American Dictionary that came with my iMac. Unless this article it’s self was an example of bigotry in the field of social research, I support the discussion – I didn’t “…insinuate that BET had a special responsibility…” as I have pointed out elsewhere in this response, that was done in the article. Your article pointed out that BET targeted programming toward youth and BET was one of the Networks with the highest number of Fast Food Ads. Another area of contention between us seems to be your belief that I suggested that BET stop selling advertising time – I did not say that – what I suggested was the BET put the Fast Food advertising in different time slots and cut down on the frequency of the ads. Let’s say children watch BET in greater numbers between 4PM and 8PM. Could more advertising of Fast Foods be done after 8 PM and before 4 PM? How many times have you been watching programming on Sunday afternoons and have seen the exact same ad for Ford Trucks two or more times in a row – yes some times that is an accident, but other times and may be during children programming it is done intentionally.

        OK Mr. Visconti, I doubt that I have swayed your opinion of me and to that I say – such is life – for whatever reason you decided without much knowledge of who I am, that I am a bigot and it would take an act of God to change your mind – if you want to discuss this further – you have my email address


        Michael Tierney
        Cebu City, Cebu
        Philippine Islands

        • You made good points, better stated this time. Thank you for making the effort.

          I would say, however, that ultimate responsibility lies with food companies that foist garbage on society, preying on the human cravings for salt, fat and sugar – especially when under stress. They destroy health in making their profit, then skip off leaving the taxpayer to foot the bill for Medicare and Medicare. In the case of fast food companies, its double billionaire welfare as taxpayers subsidize their non substanance wages with food stamps, section 8 and earned income credit.

          I put responsibility at the source in this situation. Certainly the end user has responsibility, but most poor people cannot outwit most billionaires. And “Black owned media” does not bear a disproportionate responsibility. That said, you will not see click bait advertising on this website as long as I’m boss. Sure, I can make money off “see what happened to these child star” articles, but I will not abuse my audience that way.

          In closing, you don’t need my validation, but I apologize for calling you a bigot, your comments, however, were not quite right. I spent three months of my life in the Philippines, I completely understand why you’re there, Mabuhay!

  • Black children, like the poorest darker-skinned “untouchables” in India watch more TV to as escapism from racist oppression (there’s an overabundance of Bollywood TV watching in India).

    BET (aka Bogus, Evil, and Trifling) had junk programming before Viacom acquired it–now it’s foul garbage programming. It’s not up to the networks–the Black parents allow their children to watch junk, sexual immortality, cooning and buffoonery on every network. Blackish wins awards because it depicts Blacks at their most ignorant shenanigans and worst acting. It’s a modern-day Good Times.

    There’s a good side to obesity if they become oversized football players. Overworked and underpaid Black mothers don’t have the luxury of white suburban mothers to cook healthy meals. All of this goes back to racist oppression which includes diabolical genocide. Kill them before they grow up!

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