Fast-Food Ads Target Minority Youth

Fast-food restaurants are spending more marketing to Black and Hispanic youth. Read on to learn more about how this strategy is slowing down the fight against childhood obesity. Nurses General Nursing News

Childhood obesity is a major problem in the U.S. and the pandemic has made healthy eating even harder.  A recent study found kids are now eating more pizza, burgers, fries and other fast-food items than in previous years.  According to the National Center for Health Statistics, more than a whopping third of U.S. kids and teens eat fast food on any given day.

The Study

Research has shown a strong link between childhood obesity rates and increases in fast-food advertisement.  New research, recently published by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut, found fast-food advertising has really changed over the past few years. The full study details, published in Fast Food FACTS 2021, can be accessed here.

Study Method

Researchers reviewed Neilson data to determine how 274 fast-food restaurants spent their advertising dollars and how often kids were exposed to the ad campaigns.  Data from the top 27 fast-food advertisers was also analyzed to better understand how they targeted white, Hispanic and Black consumers under the age of 18.  The researchers analysis included:

  • Advertising spending in all media, including TV, radio, outdoor and digital;
  • How much children and teens were exposed to TV advertising for fast food;
  • TV advertising targeted to Black and Hispanic youth, including advertising on Black targeted and Spanish-language TV;
  • Disproportionate exposure by Black vs. White youth; and
  • Changes in advertising spending and exposure from 2012 to 2019.

Study Findings

The fast-food industry has made changes to help address the problem of poor diets among U.S. children and teens.  These changes include:

  • Introducing healthier menu items
  • Healthier choices in kids’ meal side items
  • Removing soda from kids’ meal menu
  • Some restaurants have pledged to advertise only healthier items to children

The study findings shed light on the question “Has advertising to youth changed and if restaurants are now advertising healthier menu items?”.

Advertising Not Improved

Researchers found that over the 8 year study period, no significant improvements were made in advertising targeting children or to Hispanic and Black youth.  Key findings from 2012 to 2019 include:

  • Spending on advertisement increased by most restaurants and ads targeting Black and Hispanic youth was even greater.
  • All youth age groups were exposed to fewer TV ads, but the decline was less than expected.
  • A high number of restaurants continued to run ads targeting children under 12 on children and preschool TV channels.
  • Healthy Items Not Promoted

Data analysis revealed restaurants did not live up to their pledge of promoting healthier foods.  High-calorie menu items continued to be promoted in ads geared to children in teens.  For example:

  • Low-cost menu items and bundles were advertised 4 to 6 times as much when compared to healthier items.
  • Spending on Spanish-language and Black targeted TV ads promoting value meals/bundles was higher when compared to total ad budgets.
  • McDonald’s was the only restaurant that spent more than 1% of its advertising budget to promote healthier kids’ meals.

Other Key Findings

Other study findings found restaurants need to do a much better job of advertising healthy menu options to kids, teens and minority communities.  Findings include:

  • In 2019, fast-food restaurants increased advertising spending by over $400 million dollars compared to 2012.
  • In 2019, Black preschoolers, youth and teens viewed 75% more fast-food ads compared to their white peers.
  • A total of 274 fast-food restaurants advertised in 2019.  However, approximately 55% of fast-food TV ads aimed at kids and teens were from these 6 restaurants:
    • Domino’s 
    • McDonalds
    • Burger King
    • Taco Bell
    • Little Caesar’s
    • Sonic
    • Recommendations

The study report identified ways the fast-food industry advertise to youth more responsibly.  Here are a few recommendations:

  • Restrict unhealthy food ads to youth 14 years old and older
  • No longer advertising on preschool and children’s TV channels.
  • Stop disproportionately promoting unhealthy foods to Black and Hispanic youth.
  • Policymakers at local, state and federal governments could also play a role by:
  • Implement policies that set nutrition standards for kids’ meals.
  • Develop campaigns to increase awareness of advertising that promotes unhealthy foods and targets minority communities.

All of the study’s recommendations can be found here

How have you seen fast-food advertising impacting our youth negatively over the past year?


Fast food equity problem:  Black and Hispanic youth unfairly targeted by ads

Specializes in Specializes in L/D, newborn, GYN, LTC, Dialysis.

And another problems is economically-disadvantaged people often live in "food deserts" where there are few grocery stores. Most of the stores they have are full of junk food and cigarettes and alcohol. Not helpful for such folks either.

Specializes in Travel, Home Health, Med-Surg.

I agree that the food markets (fast food, junk cereal etc) should not be targetting children but that is how they operate and always have. That said, I also believe that the parents are the ones who are in control of what their own children are eating. I get it is a little harder with teenagers but with younger kids it is easily doable. This type of advertising has been going on for years and years, nothing new here. Parents need to take responsibility, get their kids away from the TV and/or just say no to the fast food and provide more nutritious meals. Not always easy (I know) but it can be done. Also would help if schools taught nutrition, I know they used to, not sure now. Also would help if school (and other) nurses could feel free to provide education on a childs (or adults) weight without fear of repercussion. I know school nurses who won't even touch that with a 10ft pole because of past bad experiences, same for hospital nurses for adults. Maybe the Pediatrician in the article should address those issues as well.

Specializes in Psych, Addictions, SOL (Student of Life).
On 7/26/2021 at 12:21 PM, SmilingBluEyes said:

I think we better tackle this problem in the schools. I made my kids' lunches as all they had to offer was absolutely JUNK in the school cafeteria.

I agree,

I made my son's lunches daily for 12 years except for the 1 day a week in Jr High and high school when he purchased lunch from the lunch lady who actually made real food: Scratch made chicken burritos, single serving pizza, hamburgers etc...... and no child was ever turned away or their parent charged if they did not have a lunch. 

The school where my son went for elementry and Jr high had a large vegetable garden and all the grades 1-8 had an hour a week (with older kids volunteering on weekends) ensuring that the children developed an understanding of where their food came from. Every two weeks or so the kids would bring in a harvest and make lunch under a teacher's guidance.

Lest you think this was a rural program I would like to add that this was in Southern California less than 40 minutes from Los Angeles. 

I don't think fast food companies target minority youth but they do target the working poor who often have limited time for grocery shopping and preparing healthy meals. Still parents decide what their kids eat at home so they are responsible for how they respond to predatory advertising and  the whining of children.



On 7/26/2021 at 7:14 AM, morelostthanfound said:

Perhaps not a racist conspiracy but still a pretty despicable marketing ploy (borrowed from the US Army), targeting impressionable, minority youths from poor families.   


Yes yes, the US Army where the majority of combat troops and deaths are disproportionately poor and white. Also ways trying to bring down the minorities though yeah?

But yes believe your delusions

I was a recruiter BTW

Specializes in Community Health, Med/Surg, ICU Stepdown.

I agree the advertising is probably motivated by profit, not racism. The companies know that racism puts poor minority families in a position where they are more likely to purchase fast food, due to factors like income inequality, lack of access to nutrition education and healthy foods, and less free time to cook. I wouldn't say fast food restaurants are racist, but they definitely take advantage of racism for profit.

I don't blame a mom who lives in a food desert for buying her child a $1 hamburger from the McDonalds down the street instead of taking 2 buses to the nearest grocery store to buy organic vegetables that she can't afford. I get the points about personal responsibility, but there truly are people who do not own a car and the nearest grocery store is over an hour away by bus, and they work 3 jobs. We place a lot of judgement on people who are overweight, without always looking at why. 

Specializes in Community Health, Med/Surg, ICU Stepdown.

If you do want someone to judge though, I fully admit I live 2 blocks from an organic farmers' market yet I eat Doritos and sour patch kids almost daily. I don't think it's even real food... more like chemicals, dyes, and some corn syrup =/ working on it!! This is an example of where personal responsibility needs to come in... LOL

3 hours ago, Numenor said:

Yes yes, the US Army where the majority of combat troops and deaths are disproportionately poor and white. Also ways trying to bring down the minorities though yeah?

But yes believe your delusions

I was a recruiter BTW

Sorry if this struck a nerve with you but I stand by assertion.  In no way was this an attempt to "bring down the minorities", but rather, was in their defense.  Perhaps, it's you, in your military fervor, who is delusional!

Specializes in Customer service.

I'm poor. I live 2 blocks away from Whole Foods, Smith's, Trader Joe's, and other stores, but I always find my ways to McDonald's every now and then. I eat when I need it. 

I observed people. Many of them eat disproportionately to what they need.

Specializes in Dialysis.
On 7/26/2021 at 3:21 PM, SmilingBluEyes said:

I think we better tackle this problem in the schools. I made my kids' lunches as all they had to offer was absolutely JUNK in the school cafeteria.

I was lucky in that I lived 4 houses from my sons school (think K-12 in 1 bldg). They came home everyday for lunch, thank goodness. At least I had some control. I was tired from working nights, but I made sure that they had something nutritious everyday. After a while, some of the kids who weren't as fortunate came with them. It may have not been high dollar, but it was nutritious and filling. My heart breaks for the slop the kids are subjected to in this day and age

Specializes in Med-Surg, Geriatrics, Wound Care.
1 hour ago, Hoosier_RN said:

My heart breaks for the slop the kids are subjected to in this day and age

I still recall some of the crap I was "subjected" to in the '80s. The school food was crap. When I lived with my grandmother, she packed my lunches.  But, when I lived with my mom, it the "free" school lunches. Yuck. ?

Specializes in Geriatrics, Dialysis.

Advertisers promote what sells, that's their job. Instead of placing blame on a company for running an ad on children's TV keep the blame where it belongs, on the parents/guardians who are the one's actually buying said food. I doubt any pre-schooler is seeing a commercial for a kid's meal and running to the nearest fast food joint to buy one.   

Nothing has changed in this though and I doubt it will. As a kid in the late 60's early 70's Saturday morning cartoons were filled with ads for sugary kid cereal. My parents would occasionally buy it but more often than not Mom chose healthier, and admittedly probably cheaper options. 

Of course this is the same Mom that as a grandparent hit every McDonalds around buying Happy Meals to get the toy for my daughter when the teeny weeny Beanie Babies were a thing. Remember those?  I got so stinking sick of McDonalds during that time I didn't eat it again for ages! 

Specializes in ER.

I wasn't allowed to watch Saturday morning cartoons. No daytime TV was allowed in our home. No sugar cereals either.