Companies spend nearly $2 billion a year marketing junk food and sugary drinks to children and teens. This is extremely problematic, argues writer Anna Lappe in an op-ed piece for Aljazeera America, for black and Latino children who are subject to a double or even triple dose of marketing and experience diet-related disease at higher rates than their white peers.
While obesity among all young people has more than quadrupled over the past four decades – from just 5 percent among 6-to-19-year-olds in the 1960s to 19.6 percent in 2008 – rates among African-American and Latino youth have outpaced those of white youth. The statistics are most alarming for African-American teenage girls: Among those ages 12 to 19, nearly 1 in 3 were obese in 2008, the highest prevalence by age, gender, race or ethnicity.
Diabetes among young people is way up, too. In less than a decade, we saw a 21 percent increase of Type 1 diabetes diagnoses among children up to age 19 and a 30 percent increase for Type 2 diabetes. But African-Americans are much more likely to develop diabetes than their white peers: A white boy born in the year 2000 has a 26.7 percent risk of being diagnosed with diabetes in his lifetime – quite high – but a black girl born the same year has nearly double that risk.
As Carol Hazen, director of advocacy resources for the Food Marketing Initiative at the Rudd Center, told me, “When you add together target marketing and the disparate rates of diet-related diseases, what you have is a social justice issue.”
Sonya Grier calls this target marketing segmentation as a “double dose” of marketing. She explains that black and Latino kids are exposed to general marketing and then the campaigns geared specifically to them.
Lappe discusses how McDonald’s is one of the industry leaders in market segmentation:
The company is one of the biggest fast-food advertisers to young people, especially with its recently rebranded Ronald McDonald (think: more spiffy, less creepy). It also markets to the black community through its 365Black.com platform (created by the company as a “social space for celebrating African American history and culture 365 days a year”) and through sponsored events such as the Inspirational Celebration Gospel Tour, a multicity concert featuring Grammy Award winners and Billboard chart toppers.
Read more on how youth actually receive a triple dose, how youth in low-income communities are exposed to greater place-based marketing such as billboards, and how food and beverage companies exploit schools that lack financial resources with “exclusive pouring rights contracts” in exchange for funding.