Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Study Suggests Junk Food Ads Contribute to Latino Youth Obesity

Latino children view about 12 food and beverage television ads a day, says a study published in JAMA Pediatrics suggesting that such viewership could be related to high obesity rates among the group.

The researchers used Nielsen data on Spanish-language and English-language television viewership to conduct their study, which analyzed the viewing habits of children ages two to 17. In 2010, Hispanic preschoolers (ages 2 to 5) watched 4,218 ads, children (ages 6 to 11) watched 4,373, and adolescents (12 to 17) watched 4,542 ads.

“Given higher rates of obesity and overweight for Hispanic youth, it is important to understand the amount and types of food advertising they view,” said a team led by Frances Fleming-Milici of Yale University, according to a JAMA news release.

Hispanic children tend to watch fewer food ads than other children daily and Spanish-language television features fewer ads. However, about half of the food ads shown on Spanish television were for products such as fast food, candy and cereals.

In fact, Hispanic children and adolescents watched 14 percent and 24 percent fewer food ads than non-Hispanic youth.

But Hispanic preschoolers ages two to five were more likely to watch Spanish-language television, so they were exposed at an early age to a disproportionate number of ads for unhealthy foods. They also were exposed to the most Spanish-language food ads. They watched 1,038 Spanish food ads in 2010.

It’s important to point out that Hispanic children are underrepresented in pre-K programs, as compared with black and white children. Unfortunately, they may be watching more television in place of attending school.

“Although Hispanic children and adolescents see somewhat fewer of these ads, the higher obesity rates among Hispanic youth, the greater exposure by Hispanic preschoolers, and the potential enhanced effects of targeted advertising on Hispanic youth suggest that this exposure may pose additional risks for Hispanic youth,” the JAMA Pediatrics article said.