How Fast Food Companies “Super Size” African Americans

January 31, 2011  |  

Blacks are core customers of McDonald’s, which gets 17-18% of its sales from African Americans. (Sales for McDonald’s worldwide last year was $24 billion.) Black people spend a whopping $1.1 billion at Burger King, according to Target Market News.

Of course, all this black spending power translates to opportunities too. Eric Schlosser in his 2001 best-seller “Fast Food Nation,” said “an estimated one out of every eight workers in the United States has at some point been employed by McDonald’s.” McDonald’s today employs thousands of black workers.

Also, the corporation has helped create hundreds of black millionaires. In 2007, the National Black McDonald’s Operators Association had a membership of more than 300 African American owners who operated 1,300 restaurants with collective sales of $2.7 billion.  The group was co-founded by Roland Jones, among the first black McDonald’s executives. He joined the company in the mid-1960s.  In November, Jones told the Los Angeles Times: “McDonald’s has made more African American millionaires than everyone else. … We are into the second and third generation now of owners.”

Why shouldn’t black people eat at fast food restaurants? After all, they represent good value particularly for people on a slim budget. Fast food joints also serve as more than a place to eat, but as social destinations too. The local Taco Bell or Burger King can be a hangout for kids without homes, a place where they can be relatively safe.

However, the battle against obesity and the rationale against fast food hinges not on real estate or the socio-economics of the food, but on the nutritional significance of these restaurants in communities where there’s a scarcity of supermarkets. The barrage of targeted marketing campaigns by these restaurants are insidiously effective, even as obesity threatens the health of the nation.

To get people to buy their products, fast food companies spent $4.2 billion on marketing in 2009, according to a report by Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. Much of that was spent to lure children, even preschoolers.

“The industry directs its greatest effort towards children,” Freeman said. “Not only are children more susceptible to manipulation, but they also represent a long-term investment. Eating habits developed in childhood usually continue through adulthood, when young people raised on fast food begin feeding their own families.” She added that “one in five American children request particular food brands at age three.”

In 2006, fast food restaurants spent about $300 million in marketing specifically geared toward children and teens, and some $360 million on toys distributed as premiums with children’s meals, the Rudd Center study said. The average preschooler saw 2.8 TV ads for fast food every day in 2009, while children 6-11 saw 3.5 ads and teens saw 4.7 ads.

Black youth saw at least 50% more fast food ads on TV than their white peers, which translated into twice as many calories viewed in fast food ads daily compared to whites, the Rudd Center found.  With so many ads, it’s not surprising that black parents were more likely to report that their children asked to visit McDonald’s, Burger King Domino’s and KFC than white parents.

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