Every day we see thousands of advertisements. Whether on a highway billboard, a sign in a grocery store, a social media app, or a radio announcement, advertisements are everywhere and are shaping our day-to-day lives.
Public health research has studied the role of advertisements on our health. Predatory marketing to racially and ethnically minoritized populations in the U.S. is a serious problem for health disparities in particular. For instance, nutritionally poor food and beverage products are more often advertised to Black and Latino youth who watch more TV than their White peers. This unequal exposure to advertising can contribute to long-term differences in health outcomes across race and ethnicity.
Excess, predatory marketing of junk-food, nicotine, and alcohol influences our choices as consumers. It also prevents marketing of beneficial health products and information. This in turn contributes to poor health and health literacy, particularly for minoritized populations.
My colleagues and I recently published a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine that compared 1,593 primetime TV advertisement clips from Telemundo (Spanish) and NBC (English) stations in Houston, Texas. Our analysis uses a commercial determinants of health framework describing how private companies market to certain populations to maximize profit, influence, and reach. Their strategies then influence health and healthcare knowledge, norms, and behaviors.
Our TV advertisement sample was randomly selected from a six-week period in 2021. We analyzed advertisements in categories including mental health, tobacco prevention, alcohol and beer, food and beverages, and pharmaceuticals.
Public health policies that regulate advertisements are needed to promote health and health equity.
We found more health-adverse advertisements and fewer health-beneficial advertisements on Spanish-language broadcasts compared to English-language broadcasts.
Telemundo was much more likely to air alcohol and unhealthy food and beverage advertisements and less likely to have healthy food and beverage advertisements than NBC. Specifically, Telemundo broadcasted 11 more alcohol and 5 more unhealthy food and beverage advertisements per hour of total TV advertisement time than NBC. Telemundo broadcasted zero advertisements on mental health promotion and tobacco prevention compared to 11 on NBC.
Given our findings, corporations have created an overall poor culture of health for our communities. U.S.-based Latino populations and viewers of Spanish-language TV are especially exposed to harmful advertising and denied health promotion information, contributing to health disparities. For example, while COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in the U.S. overall in 2020 behind heart disease and cancer, it was the top cause of death among Latino communities. Public health policies that regulate advertisements are needed to promote health and health equity. The FDA and FCC already monitor the ban of tobacco advertisements. They must do the same for all advertisements that are harmful to our health.
Photo via Getty Images