When It Comes to Marketing, Junk Food Companies Target Kids of Color

Last Update: December 3, 2021

The data is staggering: For one in four adolescents of color, maintaining a healthy weight is a daily struggle. More than 25 percent of black or Latino boys aged six to 11 are obese, according to Centers for Disease Control data.

But when these young people flip on the television or walk through their neighborhoods, they’re bombarded with advertising from food companies whose products would worsen their health rather than improve it. In fact, according to a new study out of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut, black and Latino youth are exposed to much more junk food marketing messages—on television and in their communities—than their white counterparts.

Specifically, black youth face a daily onslaught of unhealthy food advertising. In 2013, food companies spent $135 million pushing fast food, sugary drinks, and snacks on television channels targeting black youth. The Hershey Company alone spent $23 million targeting black youth with its candy.

Compare this to just $2 million spent on yogurt and 100 percent juice and nothing spent marketing plain water, fruits and vegetables, the result is troubling: black youth, who already are more likely to struggle with obesity, face a near-constant barrage of messages from products closely linked with obesity.

“This report highlights important disparities in the food and beverage industry’s heavy marketing of unhealthy foods to Hispanic and black youth, and the corresponding lack of promotion of healthier options,” said Amelie G. Ramirez, director of Salud America!, based at the Institute for Health Promotion Research at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, in a Rudd Center press release. “Given the role food marketing plays in influencing the diets of youth of color, there is increasing demand for heightened industry self-regulation and community-based action.”

Food advertising “affects children’s preferences, purchase requests and short-term consumption,” according to a landmark 2005 study by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. But despite promises by 17 leading food brands to decrease the marketing of less healthy products to children, this industry self-regulation has not moved the needle nearly enough: companies may now be marketing more sugar to kids than they were before the policies took effect.

Given the chronic, diet-related health issues rampant in communities of color, the Rudd report showing junk food makers specifically targeting youth in these communities is troubling, and yet another reminder why it’s important to look at corporate responsibility, integrity and transparency when choosing where to spend our food dollars.

Photo credit: h8rnet via Flickr

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Steve Holt

Steve Holt's stories about food, nutrition and food politics are found at Civil Eats,, Boston Magazine, and elsewhere. He's been featured in the Best Food Writing anthology. Follow his tweets and Instagrams @thebostonwriter.

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