- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2006


Black-oriented TV carries far more commercials for fast food and snacks than do channels with more general programming, researchers report in a provocative study that suggests a link to high obesity rates in black children.

The results come from a study that lasted just one week in the summer. Commercials on Black Entertainment Television, the nation’s first black-targeted cable channel, were compared with ads during afternoon and evening shows on the WB network and Disney Channel.

Of the nearly 1,100 ads, more than half were for fast food and drinks, such as sodas.

About 66 percent of the fast-food ads were on BET, compared with 34 percent on WB and none on Disney. For drinks, 82 percent were on BET, 11 percent on the WB and 6 percent on Disney; and for snacks, 60 percent were on BET, none on the WB and 40 percent on Disney.

The study in a pediatric medical journal accompanies separate research: a study indicating that children consume an extra 167 calories, often from advertised foods, for every hour of TV they watch and a report suggesting that even preschoolers get fat from watching more than two hours of daily TV.

The articles appear in April’s Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, a theme issue on media and children’s health released Monday.

The studies clearly illustrate “that the media have disturbing potential to negatively affect many aspects of children’s healthy development,” Amy Jordan of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at University of Pennsylvania writes in a journal editorial.

“Such evidence offers increasing support for the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation that children older than 2 years spend no more than two hours per day with screen media, preferably educational screen media,” Miss Jordan says.

Still, Miss Jordan says that the ads study doesn’t prove that seeing a disproportionate number of commercials for unhealthy foods causes black youngsters to become overweight and that more research is needed “to more convincingly directly tie exposure to effects.”

Obesity affects about 18 percent of black children, compared with about 14 percent of white youngsters, according to 2001-02 data. The rate was almost 20 percent for Hispanics. New estimates coming later this week are expected to show the numbers have increased for both blacks and whites.

BET spokesman Michael Lewellen says BET’s target audience is blacks aged 18 to 34 and that its programming “does not target children.” He also questions the study’s methods because the researchers included ads shown during prime time, “when virtually all networks target adults.”

The researchers examined ads shown from 3 to 9 p.m. for one week last July. Programming generally was music videos on BET, cartoons and talk shows on the WB, and cartoons and child-oriented shows — including “That’s So Raven” and “Kim Possible” — on Disney. The same programming is offered during the school year, says Corliss Wilson Outley, a University of Minnesota researcher and the lead author.

Disney is not an advertiser-supported channel, but the researchers counted company-announced sponsors of Disney programs as commercials. McDonald’s Corp. was the leading fast-food advertiser.

Miss Outley says black children are an attractive target for fast-food companies because many live in neighborhoods with easier access to fast food than to healthier food.

The goal is to “get kids hooked at a very early age” so they become lifelong customers, she says.

McDonald’s spokesman Bill Whitman calls the study “a bit misguided” and says McDonald’s doesn’t single out black children.

“Our marketing strategy encompasses young people as well as adults, and we do that through various media and marketing strategies that cross all demographics,” Mr. Whitman says.

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