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Black adolescent females with obesity may be vulnerable to racially targeted food marketing.

Unhealthy food advertisements disproportionately target black youth and contribute to poor diets and obesity. Those with food-related attentional biases (ABs), who over-attend to food cues, may be especially vulnerable. Although research has shown a negative impact of unhealthy food advertisements on children, there is a lack of research on adolescents. A pilot study in the journal PLOS One assessed the feasibility and initial effects of a pilot study evaluating the impact of racially targeted advertisements and ABs on food consumption behaviors in Black adolescent females.

Study Population

The study comprised 41 Black females aged 12 to 17 years. Body mass index z-scores ranged from -1.01 to 2.62 (mean = 0.95). The median household income was estimated to be $96,110.

Feasibility of Recruitment and Protocol

In this study, 167 adolescents were primarily recruited through direct mailings. After excluding 56, the remaining 55 adolescents were scheduled for a visit. Most (n = 48) attended the visit and signed consents. The research team organized three touchpoints between the initial contact and the study visit for continuous engagement. All individuals reported adhering to fasting instructions and abstaining from exercise for 2 hours before the visit. Every eligible participant successfully completed the entire study visit. Although all participants completed the AB task, seven individuals were excluded from the analysis due to high error rates.

Racially Targeted Ads Increase Calorie Intake in Obese Adolescents

In both experimental conditions (racially-targeted food ads vs. neutral ads), participants consumed an average of 1083.65 kcal during the test meal, which contained approximately 41.19% fat, 58.06 g of sugar, and 1444.52 mg of salt. The pre-visit self-reported average intake was 363.40 kcal. Thirty-three participants were included in the analysis to examine the effects of racially targeted food ads on energy intake. 

The study found that exposure to racially targeted food ads (vs. neutral ads) did not affect energy intake (P > 0.99). However, among obese adolescents, there was a trend toward consuming more calories than non-obese adolescents (P = 0.010)  when exposed to racially targeted food ads. Although this interaction is statistically non-significant, it provides the initial support that obese adolescents may be especially vulnerable to racially-targeted food ads.

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Initial Effects of Food-Related Additional Biases on Energy Intake

In the analysis, 24 participants were included to examine the initial effects of food-related ABs on energy intake. The study found no significant initial effects of food-related ABs with racially-targeted food ads on energy intake. Moreover, there were no significant food-related ABs by obesity interactions on energy intake.

Marketing Conditions and Ethnicity Did Not Affect Total Energy Intake

The analysis examined the relationship between marketing conditions and ethnic identity on total energy intake, with a total of 33 participants included. However, no significant interaction was observed between these factors.

Source

Cassidy, O., Tanofsky-Kraff, M., Waters, A. J., Shank, L. M., Pine, A., Quattlebaum, M., DeLeon, P. H., Bragg, M. A., & Sbrocco, T. (2023). The impact of racially-targeted food marketing and attentional biases on consumption in Black adolescent females with and without obesity: Pilot data from the Black Adolescent & Entertainment (BAE) study. PLOS ONE, 18(1), e0279871. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0279871