The overall effects of these marketing strategies might contribute to the significantly higher rates of obesity among African Americans than in whites, says the study's lead author, Sonya A. Grier, Ph.D., a former Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, currently at the American University Kogod School of Business in Washington, DC.
"It's hard to make healthy choices when all the signals and supports in your environment tell you to do just the opposite," Grier says. "One way to make a dent in the obesity epidemic is to reverse those messages so that marketing efforts support healthier eating among African Americans."
The study is the first to take a comprehensive view of food marketing strategies aimed at African Americans. Study researchers considered the four key tools used by food and beverage marketers to reach particular target markets: products that are offered to a market; promotions, including advertising and other types of persuasive communications; place, referring to the distribution and availability of specific products; and price.
The researchers conducted a systematic review of published studies to identify the 20 that permitted comparisons of food and beverage marketing strategies to African Americans versus other groups. Despite a limited evidence base, they found that African Americans are more frequently exposed to food promotion and distribution patterns that support unhealthy eating habits.
Grier says that food-related businesses and marketers should take a hard look at how targeted marketing strategies may be contributing to racial and ethnic disparities in obesity. In addition, she recommends the following:
* African American media should pursue healthier product sponsors and actively seek out healthier food promotions.
* Communities should advocate for greater access to healthier foods, including supermarkets and farmers' markets.