Mapping ads in Philly neighborhoods
Thursday, July 9th, 2009
From bicycle paths to farmer's markets, researchers are measuring the health impact of neighborhoods. Now, a new University of Pennsylvania study considers the influence of advertising.
Amy Hillier is one of those moms. When she sees something wrong in her neighborhood, she tries to get it fixed.
The sign was a soft drink ad and Hillier doesn't want her 1-year-old Isaac exposed to advertising that promotes soda or other products she considers unhealthy. Some neighborhoods have more than their fair share of those ads, and Hillier thinks they influence health and health choices.
Hillier: Our likelihood of being overweight or obese, our likelihood to consume alcohol or to smoke cigarettes, to buy Kentucky Fried Chicken, these are all spatial issues that we think can affect people's health as well.
Hillier is an expert in geographic mapping systems and studies health disparities. Her team took GPS devices into Philadelphia neighborhoods and tracked the location of outdoor ads. They were looking for ads that promote sugary drinks, fast food, tobacco and alcohol.
Ads for theses so-called unhealthy products were clustered in black and Latino communities, and Hillier says they were often near schools, daycares and libraries.
Hillier: It didn't even dawn on me that the places where kids spend time would be in some ways the hot spots for these kinds of ads.
Hillier's study raises the question of whether some advertisers are targeting children. Diana Garza Ciarlante is a spokeswoman for the Coke Company.
Ciarlante: Coca Cola does not market any of its brands in any media that is primarily directed to children under the age of 12, or any media that has an audience that is 50 percent or more children of that age range.
Mapping expert Amy Hillier says the clustering of ads near schools may not be intentional, but intentional or not, she thinks the ads compromise the health of children who walk by every day.
Hillier: Why would the advertisers put the advertising up if it didn't affect people's choice of products and behavior?
Hillier says her study continues a debate about whether well-being and disease are linked to the places people live, work and play.
At the corner of 22nd and Lehigh Avenue research assistant Latifah Griffin counts two billboards for beer and several window posters for cigarettes, just across the street from Dobbins High School.
Griffin: Kids have to walk this way to school, and they have to walk past these advertisements, how does that impact their psyche, you know does that make them want to go buy alcohol and tobacco? We don't know, but we want to find out.
Amy Hillier says her study doesn't make that link but she says a long line of previous research has.
Hillier: So we are able to say look, kids are being exposed to these ads, because there is clustering of these ads for unhealthy products around the places where they spend time, rec centers, libraries, schools, daycares.
Philadelphia already prohibits alcohol ads within a thousand feet of schools. Hillier wants fast food and tobacco added to the list of ads banned where kids congregate.
Golimowski: I think studies like this, they're interesting, and they can provide good information, but they tend to overreach.
Jeff Golimowski is a spokesman for the Outdoor Advertising Association of America.
Golimowski: When they start advocating things like restricting free speech, or restricting advertising legal products they step over a line.
Golimowski agrees that ads are an influence, but only an influence. He says health behavior always comes down to personal decisions, and adults' responsibility to teach kids about healthy choices.
The Penn study appears in the journal Health and Place.