Black children are seeing way more ads for unhealthy snack foods than white children

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We know obesity rates among black children have long been than higher than among white children. The reasons for this are complicated, but a new study highlights one contributing factor: Black children see way more ads for unhealthy snack foods than white children.

The University of Connecticut's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity found that in 2014, black children aged 6 to 11 saw 64% more snack food ads on TV than white children, and black teens viewed more than twice as many ads as white teens. On average, they found black children viewed 2.7 ads per day, and black teens viewed 3.1 ads per day.


Which companies are doing the most targeting? The authors found that black teens viewed three-times as many Doritos ads than whites. Tostitos, Lay’s Potato Chips, Oreo Cookies, and PopTarts also had higher disparities. For savory snacks in particular (ones with high salt content), black teens saw 129% more ads than white teens.

Here's a table of black-white exposure disparities among major brands, ranked by disparity among teens (I highlighted that column and the children disparity column in red). In total $1.28 billion was spent on snack-food advertising, with 60% going to sweet or savory foods.


The problem has been getting worse, the study found: Black children saw 29% more snack-food ads on TV in 2014 than in 2010, while black teens saw 49% more. For whites, there was only an increase of 16% and 25%, respectively.

How is this happening? In the first place, black children watch more TV than whites—42% more, to be exact. Meanwhile, black teens watch 68% more TV compared with white teens.

But that disparity doesn't explain everything, the study says:

Differences in exposure to snack food ads were higher than would be expected given differences in TV viewing. Therefore, companies advertised snack foods relatively more during programming that black children and teens were more likely to watch and may have targeted their advertising directly to black youth.


The study does not state which shows these were.

Whatever the case, to remedy the situation the study recommends stricter regulation of snack food advertising. In particular, they say that foods that cannot be sold to children in schools should not be advertised to them in the media. They also recommend closing certain loopholes in current USDA regulation of food advertising to children, like changing the definition of "children" from 11 to 14, and expanding the definition of "child-directed media" to incorporate "all media and other places where children are the intended audience."


Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.