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.
The 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.
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.