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Study suggests link between food commercials and obesity in Latino youth

Researchers found that about 50 percent of Spanish-language TV food advertisements are trying to sell fast food, candy or cereal.
Researchers found that about 50 percent of Spanish-language TV food advertisements are trying to sell fast food, candy or cereal.
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The average Latino child or teen probably viewed upwards of 4,200 food commercials on TV in 2010.

That's about 12 food ads daily, according to the authors of a new study appearing in JAMA Pediatrics, who suggest that may have something to do with the high rates of obesity among Latino youth.

The latest data on South Los Angeles from the county's Department of Public Health indicates that more than two-thirds of the area's total population is Latino. It also notes that nearly 30 percent of southside children between 2 and 17 years of age watch at least three hours of TV daily.

Both of those rates are among the highest in the county.

South L.A. also has the dubious distinction of possessing the highest child obesity rate in Los Angeles County: Almost 30 percent of children in the fifth, seventh and ninth grades are clinically obese.

Using Nielsen data from 2010, the authors of the JAMA Pediatrics study found Latino preschoolers, children and teenagers viewed between 4,218 to 4,542 food and drink ads on TV annually – around 12 ads a day. They also noted Latino preschoolers see more Spanish-language food ads than their older counterparts.

Researchers explained that because there are fewer food ads on Spanish-langauge TV overall, non-Latino youth viewed more food ads on average. But food ads comprised a larger proportion of Spanish-language TV ads, with about 50 percent of those commercials advertising fast food, candy and cereal:

Both Hispanic and non-Hispanic youth view large numbers of television advertisements for nutrient-poor categories of food and beverage. 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.

As such, lead author Frances Fleming-Milici said in a statement that "continued monitoring" of how food companies reach out to Latino youth is important. With children in general, the authors wrote, "exposure to large numbers of television advertisements for foods and beverages with little or no nutritional value likely contributes to poor diet among youth," which in turn may account for high rates of obesity among certain groups.

Harvard's School of Public Health says Latino youth have higher rates of obesity (21 percent) than their white peers (14 percent).