Marketing, fast-food locations promote unhealthy eating among Blacks

By Charles Hallman

Staff Writer


A new study finds that Black and Latino children are more likely to be overweight and exercise less if they attend schools that are near fast-food restaurants.

American University Associate Marketing Professor Sonya Grier and Baylor University Assistant Marketing Professor Brennan Davis co-authored the study and found that low-income students and students of color in urban areas tend to have higher body mass indexes (BMI) and drink more pop.

The report is published in the current issue of Journal of Public Policy & Marketing.  

“I was surprised given that my research really focused on target marketing and how targeting of youth, especially African Americans, seems to have these extra effects than they have on youth in general,” explained Grier in a recent MSR phone interview. “It

Sonya Grier MSR file photo
Sonya Grier
MSR file photo

wasn’t surprising, but at the same time it was surprising to think about to what extent there were differences [due to] having fast-food restaurants nearby.”

Black neighborhoods “often…have many fast-food restaurants and have less access to healthy food,” said Grier, who added that the study only looked at areas in California. It also didn’t look at physical education classes or policies in schools, “but that is something that definitely could be looked at,” she noted.

Grier also co-authored a similar study in 2011 with Senior Marketing Lecturer Guillaume Johnson of Witwatersrand University in South Africa. It pointed out that young Black and Latina girls between the ages of 12 and 19 generally have higher obesity rates than boys, and obesity can lead to future health problems such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and shorter life expectancy for these females.

The American University professor also, in another study, examined nearly 15 years of marketing research as it pertains to U.S. Blacks. “The type of food that African Americans are exposed to tends to be less healthy… The prices are in some cases higher and the advertising that’s shown during Black TV shows and in Black magazines tend to be less healthy products,” noted Grier.

“Black people live in an environment that [has] less healthy food. You have to make an effort to go out and get healthier food.

“All Black people aren’t going to be the same,” but she warns that “the situation and the context in which people live has a huge impact, for example, on how important convenience is or how much time you have to cook.

“I’m not saying that marketing is the only reason that contributes [to unhealthy eating],” said Grier, “but it is a contributor. As a marketing professor, we have to look at the significant role that marketing might play and the unintentional consequences that it might give in addition to the general consequences of the marketing world, which is to sell products.”


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to
To see more stories by Charles Hallman stories click HERE