Thursday, August 28, 2008

5877: Researchers Not Lovin’ Fast Food Marketing.


Does Marketing Contribute to Obesity in African-Americans?
Study Indicates It Does, but Economic, Cultural Factors Also to Blame

By Emily Bryson York

NEW YORK -- There is a body of statistical data suggesting that the black community has been left behind on the road to healthier-food marketing.

That’s according to an article in the September issue of the American Journal of Public Health, which examined marketing and advertising studies conducted between 1992 and 2006 and looked at foods and beverages marketed to blacks vs. whites.

Sonya Grier, lead researcher on the project and associate professor of marketing at American University’s Kogod School of Business, said her group uncovered 20 studies done during the 14-year period. Each study, she said, found disparities in marketing to the two groups. This chasm, she concludes, creates an environment that contributes to obesity.

New study to come
Ms. Grier and Shiriki Kumanyika are primary investigators on a five-year, $4.5 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to study obesity prevention in black children. Less than one year in, the pair is now gearing up for their own full-fledged study.

The article may be the first comprehensive look at food marketing to blacks, considering the types of products offered to a market, promotions, advertising and other communications, distribution and availability of specific products and price. The research does not single out specific marketers.

Ms. Grier also noted that in some black neighborhoods, it’s easier to find a fast-food restaurant than it is a grocery store.

“It’s probably true in terms of having access to fresh fruit and vegetables,” said Richard McIntire, spokesman for the NAACP, adding that a number of major cities, including Detroit and Baltimore, seem to have fewer and fewer grocery stores. At the same time, fast food continues to grow. “You often have fast food carry-outs; Chinese, Mexican or other well-known fast-food restaurants seem to have more of a presence than a traditional grocery store or even a corner market in some cases,” he said.

Unhealthy environment
And at those markets, Ms. Grier said, some studies indicate that point-of-sale displays are more likely to support higher-calorie products such as candy and soda. “It doesn’t make for an environment that’s supportive of healthy eating,” she said.

While there are a number of factors, particularly economic and cultural, contributing to the situation, Ms, Grier emphasized that marketers have gone to great lengths to change their positioning for other demographics.

“Companies are constantly changing marketing strategies over social concerns about healthy eating,” she said. “We don’t see with the same frequency or fanfare in terms of targeted marketing to African-Americans, and all we’re suggesting is there needs to be a more balanced approach to create a healthier food environment for African-Americans.”

As part of the article, Ms. Grier says that food marketers need to take a hard look at how they’re communicating with the black population. She also appeals to black media to pursue sponsors that hawk healthier products, and communities to push for better access to supermarkets and farmers’ markets.


M.M. McDermott said...

“... a number of major cities, including Detroit and Baltimore, seem to have fewer and fewer grocery stores. At the same time, fast food continues to grow."

Number of reasons for this-at least in Baltimore:
1. Grocery stores here tend to have ridiculously high theft statistics compared to the suburbs, particularly in poorer, primarily black areas. To their credit, chains like Giant and Safeway have opened up stores within city limits in less-than-ideal areas. But they also have a veritable police force on patrol at all times. It's added expense and headache that many companies probably don't see being worth the investment.

2. Fast food franchises have done an excellent job of recruiting minority ownership. They may be more comfortable placing stores in areas where others fear to tread because, often times, they're of the same neighborhood.

While I don't discount the marketing inequities, I think the factors are more concrete. It boils down to access and economics. You can walk to a crappy restaurant. You have to take the bus to the Whole Foods.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I think that today's food marketing contributes quite a bit to the obesity epidemic, especially when marketers try to:

A) convince you that a "wrap" sandwich is just a snack instead of the full meal it actually is

B) tell you that sugary stuff is good for you and is part of a balanced meal because carbs=energy

C) putting a "serving size" on the nutrition label that's much smaller than the actual pre-packaged serving being provided to you

Sneaky stuff, all of it. And it's costing us a ton, literally.

M.M. McDermott said...

I agree with the fact that marketers are flexible in their ethics, but there comes a point where the masses have to take some kind of accountability. It's not rocket science to read a serving size or ascertain calorie intake. It's simple addition and common sense.

Understandably, fewer and fewer seem to have it. We've got a burgeoning population of helpless fat morons whose only exercise seems to be lifting a finger to point it at someone else. Now that's the real epidemic.

Anonymous said...

No doubt you're right, m.m. Common sense usually prevails, but then again, look who we're talking about here. Personally, I have relatives who eat fast food all day every day but think it's okay because they're active.

I feel like the weird logic marketers employ in their trendy new "healthy" messaging contributes to this kind of poor reasoning.