Does Marketing Contribute to Obesity in
Study Indicates It Does, but Economic, Cultural Factors
Also to Blame
Emily Bryson York
NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- There is a body of statistical
data suggesting that the black community has been left
behind on the road to healthier-food marketing.
Sonya Grier, associate professor of marketing at
American University's Kogod School of Business, was the
lead researcher on the project.
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
"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.
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
"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
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.
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