Targeted marketing of
high-calorie foods and beverages exposes African American consumers to
more unhealthy messages around eating and limits their access to healthy
foods, compared to whites or the general population, says a new
research review published in the September issue of the American Journal of
Public Health.

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

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

* 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.