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Junk food ads on TV tend to target African-American and Latino youth

One way to fight health disparities and obesity may be to turn off the TV. Food companies disproportionately target television advertising for unhealthy products like candy and sugary drinks to Latino and African-American youth, new research shows.

African-American children and teens in the U.S. are more than twice as likely to see an advertisement for candy and soda on TV than their white counterparts. And healthier foods that are often seen in television ads for the general population, like yogurt, are unlikely to appear on TV channels targeted to African-American and Latino viewers, according to the report. The findings were presented this week at the annual National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media in Atlanta.

“Black and Latino kids have higher rates of obesity and other diet-related diseases,” said Jennifer Harris, the study’s lead researcher from the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut. “If the (food) companies are purchasing more advertising in (ethnically) targeted media, then they could actually be contributing to the health disparities in these communities with their marketing practices.”

Racial disparities in obesity rates continue into adulthood. Among American adults, 47.8 percent of African-Americans are obese, compared with 42.5 percent of Latinos and 32.6 percent of whites, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers analyzed the marketing strategies of 267 food brands from 26 major companies (including Hershey’s, Kraft Foods, and General Mills) that spent over $100 million on advertising in 2013 or that had pledged to only advertise healthier foods to children. Using market research data on how much money and TV airtime each food company used for targeted advertising for Spanish-speaking Latinos, African-Americans, and children and teens, the researchers were able to determine what kinds of ads people of different ethnicities and ages were watching.

The researchers determined food companies were marketing to

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