Food companies spent $11 billion on television ads in 2017 with nearly $9 billion of that focused on junk and processed foods, says a new report by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut, the Council on Black Health at Drexel University, and Salud America! at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.
The report identifies target markets, concluding that Black and Hispanic youth were particularly targeted by the television campaigns after the nation's leading food producers vowed to promote healthier eating to children.
“It’s perpetuating the disparities that we all already see in kids’ health. Kids are very vulnerable to advertising, much more so than adults,” said study author Jennifer Harris of the Rudd Center. “It’s making the public health community’s job so much more difficult. It’s making parents’ jobs so much more difficult.”
According to the report's findings, Black teens were twice as likely as white teens to see the ads for unhealthy food connected to increased rates of type-2 diabetes and obesity, now at epidemic levels among U.S. children.
“Targeted marketing to low-income kids and kids of color is a significant public health threat,” Jim Krieger, the executive director of Healthy Food America, told HuffPost about the companies’ “predatory marketing practices.”
Harris says brands wouldn't spend that kind of money if they weren't aiming for a big impact and spike in sales.
No one spends billions of dollars if they don’t expect it to have an impact, Harris concurred.
The report also noted that none of the brands in the research had spent any funds on promoting healthier food options on Spanish language television.
The findings mirror 2015 research which found television ads for junk and processed foods including soda and sugary soft drinks targeting Black viewers had increased by 50 percent.
“You can now understand this is a trend,” Rafael Perez-Escamilla, a professor at the Yale School of Public Health, told the HuffPost. “The truth of the matter is the [companies] have plenty of opportunity to self-police and self-regulate, and over and over again we’re seeing it just doesn’t work.”
“When you have companies going after toddlers and infants, it’s insane,” he said. “Once you hook people ― especially starting with young children, which is very upsetting ― essentially you start training them not only on your brand but on how sweet, how salty, how caloric they’re going to like [their food] as they grow.”
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