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Fast-food restaurants aim ads at Black, Hispanic youths

August 1, 2021

Fast-food restaurants spent billions of dollars on advertisements in 2019, many of which were aimed at young children and Black and Hispanic youths, according to an analysis of advertising spending.

Eating fast food has been associated with overweight among children and teens, especially those who are Black or Hispanic. One strategy to improve youths’ diets is to limit the marketing of fast food to them. To address concerns, fast-food restaurants have started offering healthier options in kids’ meals, and some have promised that their advertising aimed at children would include only healthier items.

Researchers from the UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity used 2019 Nielsen data to look at spending by all fast-food restaurants on advertising as well as exposure to TV ads by children, teens, and Black and Hispanic youths. They compared their findings to a similar analysis in 2012.

The analysis showed:

  • Fast-food restaurants spent $5 billion in total advertising in 2019, up 9% from 2012.
  • In 2019, $318 million was spent on ads for Spanish-language TV, up 33% from 2012.
  • Many restaurants advertise on channels for preschoolers and children.
  • On average, children and teens saw two fast-food ads on TV each day.
  • Black children and youths viewed about 75% more fast-food TV ads than White children.
  • Most ads targeted to children, especially Black and Hispanic youths, were for value meals rather than healthier items.

“Fast-food consumption by children and teens has increased over the past decade, and fast-food advertising definitely plays a role in that rise,” study co-author Jennifer Harris, Ph.D., M.B.A., said in a news release. “Our findings show that these advertisements disproportionately target Black and Hispanic youth, groups who already face greater risk for obesity and other diet-related diseases. Moreover, many fast-food companies tout recent introductions of healthier menu items as evidence of their commitment to improving nutrition, but they rarely promote these items in their advertising.”

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