Newswise — Marketing may influence how often parents feed their children fast food, according to a study by Sonya A. Grier, an associate professor of marketing at American University's Kogod School of Business.
The study, titled "Fast-Food Marketing and Children's Fast-Food Consumption: Exploring Parents' Influences in an Ethnically Diverse Sample," is in the current issue of the American Marketing Association's Journal of Public Policy & Marketing.
"Obesity rates are significantly higher among many ethnic groups other than non-Hispanic whites, particularly African Americans, Hispanics, American Indians and Pacific Islanders" Grier said. "Yet much research in marketing does not include ethnically diverse samples."
Grier and her co-authors designed a questionnaire to obtain parents' self-reports of fast-food access, exposure to fast-food promotion, attitudes toward fast food, fast-food social norms and their children's fast food consumption. The questionnaire was administered to parents of children ages 2 to 12 at eight community health centers in medically underserved areas located on the United States' East Coast and in Puerto Rico. Such centers are funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration and serve more than 14 million clients with incomes below the federal poverty level, many of them minorities. The questionnaire was administered to parents in the presence of their children and in the parents' preferred language (English, Chinese or Spanish). Children were measured for height and weight.
Parents' reports of greater exposure to fast-food promotion were linked to beliefs that eating fast food is a regular practice of family, friends and others in their communities. Reports of greater exposure to fast food marketing were also linked to increased fast food intake among children. Additionally, the more parents perceived fast-food consumption as a socially normal behavior, the more frequently their children ate fast food. This was true among the entire sample, not just members of specific ethnic groups.
However, the study also identified how parents of different ethnic groups varied in their perceptions of how often they were exposed to fast-food marketing, as well as access, attitudes, norms and consumption of fast food. Hispanics and African Americans reported being exposed to more fast-food marketing and having greater access (restaurants more conveniently located) to fast-food than whites. Hispanics also reported significantly more positive attitudes toward fast-food than did whites. Asian parents expressed the least normative views of fast food consumption.
Grier, who was recently appointed to the Scientific Board of Advisors for the CDC's National Center on Health Marketing, said the results indicate a need for further research into the effect of fast-food marketing"and food marketing more generally" on the attitudes, social norms and behaviors of members of specific ethnic groups.
"It is important to examine group-level influences on behavior in combination with the traditional focus on individual influences on behavior," Grier said.
Such research could help improve efforts to prevent obesity, an area already of great interest to Grier. She is also the co-investigator for a new African American Collaborative Research Network (AACORN) study focused on developing community action strategies to help prevent obesity in African American children and teenagers. AACORN is based at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
American University's Kogod School of Business (kogod.american.edu) is the school of choice for interdisciplinary business education in the Washington, D.C. area. Established in 1955, Kogod has a highly diverse population that is driven to make a difference in the world. The school works closely with the business community to create market-driven programs that produce outstanding candidates prepared for productive careers in the global business environment.
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Journal of Public Policy & Marketing