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AACORN Seeks to Decrease Health Disparities through Research and Conversations



The African American Collaborative Obesity Research Network (AACORN) is a collaboration dedicated to improving research to address weight related health issues in the US. The group was founded in 2002 as a research group that would address issues and build research on African American communities regarding daily life, healthy eating, physical activity, weight gain prevention, weight loss and weight management strategies. AACORN’s current research efforts are funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. To learn more about what AACORN’s current research, sat down to speak with their founder, Dr. Shiriki Kumanyika and Executive Director, Vikki Lassiter.

AACORN’s mission is to improve the quality, quantity and effective translation of research to address weight-related issues in African American communities. In addition to funding and presenting research, AACORN has created an interactive online tool, the Environments Supporting Healthy Eating (ESHE) Index, which enables collaborators and individuals to use indicators of healthy eating and compound them into a score that can be compared to other communities within their state and across the country. The goal of the ESHE Index is stimulating improvements in food policy that will lead to a higher quality diet.

African-American communities are disproportionately impacted by obesity and its related conditions including heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and osteoarthritis. Through their research on these topics, AACORN published the Expanded Obesity Research Paradigm, which reflects their findings on what is needed to improve the research quality surrounding weight issues in African American communities. Dr. Kumanyika added that they have developed 19-minute videos to show people how they could use it as a tool to support advocacy as well as community health rankings system.

Last week AACORN, in conjunction with the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity and Salud America!, released a report that reviews the media targeting Black and Hispanic youth with marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages, and how that contributes to health disparities in communities of color. The report, Food advertising targeted to Hispanic and Black youth: Contributing to health disparities, examined 26 restaurant, food, and beverage companies, including all companies with $100 million or more in advertising spending in 2013 and all companies participating in the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative. According to Dr. Kumanyika the report shows that this is a clear case of tactics that must be profitable from the business perspective but at the cost of fostering an environment that promotes poor health in Black and Hispanic youth in particular.

Dr. Kumanyika, along with Dr. Jennifer Harris of the Rudd Center, and Kipling Gallion and Carlos Valenzuela of Salud America! presented the report last week during a session at the 2015 National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media. Vikki Lassiter said that their presentation addressed advertising on ethnically diverse channels, and how currently, according to their data, healthy food is not being advertised. Lassiter said, “AACORN wants to start the conversation to find a better way to talk about presenting to the black and Latino community.”

The report is designed to examine targeted marketing practices and identify opportunities to encourage companies to reduce disparities in food marketing aimed at youth of color. Dr. Harris said, “Our analysis of the largest food, beverage and restaurant corporations in the United States shows that these companies vary widely in their focus on advertising targeted to black and Hispanic youth.”

To read the full report, click here

See infographic image in depth here.