Unhealthful Food-and-Beverage Advertising in Subway Stations: Targeted Marketing, Vulnerable Groups, Dietary Intake, and Poor Health

Unhealthful food-and-beverage advertising often targets vulnerable groups. In this study, investigators systematically assessed all print ads (n = 1586) in all subway stations in the Bronx  (n = 68) in 2012. There were no ads promoting “more-healthful” food-or-beverage items (i.e., fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, water or milk). There were many ads for “less-healthful” items (e.g., candies, chips, sugary cereals, frozen pizzas, “energy” drinks, coffee confections, hard alcohol, and beer). Ad placement did not relate to the number of riders entering at stations. Instead, exposure to food-or-beverage ads generally, and to “less-healthful” ads particularly (specifically ads in Spanish, directed at youth, and/or featuring minorities), was directly correlated with poverty, lower high-school graduation rates, higher percentages of Hispanics, and/or higher percentages of children in surrounding residential areas. Additional analyses suggested correlations between ad exposures and sugary-drink consumption, fruit-and-vegetable intake, and diabetes, hypertension, and high-cholesterol rates. Subway-station ads for “less-healthful” items were located disproportionately in areas home to vulnerable populations facing diet and diet-related-health challenges. The fact that uneven ad placement did not relate to total rider counts suggests ads were not directed at the largest possible audiences but rather targeted to specific groups.

Full citation: Lucan SC, Maroko AR, Sanon OC, Schechter CB. Unhealthful Food-and-Beverage Advertising in Subway Stations: Targeted Marketing, Vulnerable Groups, Dietary Intake, and Poor Health. J Urban Health. 2017;94(2):220-232.

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