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Selling high-fat to African Americans

August 28, 2008 |  4:29 pm

Researchers have explored links between weight and environmental factors, such as the ratio of supermarkets to fast-food outlets in a neighborhood or the number of parks available for recreation, Mcdonalds1 and found that communities that have more stores that sell fresh fruits and vegetables, more safe areas for play and fewer McDonald's and KFC's have fewer obese residents. The evidence was so compelling that last month the Los Angeles City Council barred new fast-food outlets from opening in South Los Angeles for a year, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times.

Now researchers have fingered another culprit, food marketers, to help explain why overweight and obesity rates are higher among African Americans (68.9%) than among whites (59.5%), according to statistics reported by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

In a review of 22 studies published in the September issue of the American Journal of Public Health,  researchers found that advertisers specifically target African Americans with unhealthy food messages. In television and print, high-fat, high-calorie foods are more heavily promoted to African Americans. Television shows popular among black audiences run a greater number of food commercials than do general-audience shows. And the commercials themselves are more likely to pitch foods higher in calories and lower in nutritional value to black viewing audiences.

And food ads in black-oriented magazines were dominated by low-cost, energy-dense, low-nutrition foods -- think doughnuts, potato chips and Twinkies.

"The results suggest that the marketing environments of African American consumers are less likely to support the development and maintenance of healthful eating and, moreover, that these environments may predispose African Americans to excess caloric consumption," the study concludes.

-- Susan Brink

Photo credit: Adam Berry / Bloomberg News

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