Journal of Urban Health

, Volume 94, Issue 2, pp 220–232 | Cite as

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

  • Sean C. LucanEmail author
  • Andrew R. Maroko
  • Omar C. Sanon
  • Clyde B. Schechter


Unhealthful food-and-beverage advertising often targets vulnerable groups. The extent of such advertising in subway stations has not been reported and it is not clear how ad placement may relate to subway ridership or community demographics, or what the implications might be for diets and diet-related health in surrounding communities. Riding all subway lines (n = 7) in the Bronx, NY, USA, investigators systematically assessed all print ads (n = 1586) in all stations (n = 68) in 2012. Data about subway ridership came from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Demographic data on surrounding residential areas came from the U.S. Census Bureau. Data on dietary intake and diet-related conditions came from a city health-department survey. 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. Correlations were robust to sensitivity analyses. 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.


Food and Beverages Advertising Nutrition Vulnerable groups Latino/Hispanic Black-African American Children Socio-economic status Fruits and vegetables Sugar-sweetened beverages Obesity Diabetes Hypertension Dyslipidemia Diet-related diseases 



The authors would like to offer sincere posthumous thanks to Hope M. Spano for intern coordination and project assistance. SL is supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health under award K23HD079606. The content of this manuscript is solely the responsibility of SL and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. OS received a student stipend to participate in this research from the Hispanic Center of Excellence at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, which had no role in the study design; collection, analysis, or interpretation of data; writing the report; or the decision to submit the report for publication. SL conceived the study, performed the literature review, designed the data collection protocol, oversaw primary data collection, performed all analyses, and drafted the manuscript, including tables and figures. AM retrieved all secondary sources of data (from the MTA, the U.S. Census Bureau, and the city health department), assisted with analyses and data interpretation, created all maps, and helped revise the manuscript. OS performed primary data collection (in the subway system), assisted with data analysis and interpretation, and helped revise the manuscript. CS oversaw and assisted with data analysis and helped revise the manuscript. SL serves as a member of the Scientific and Nutritional Advisory Board for Epicure. None of the other authors have any disclosures. The authors would like to thank Andrew Carmona and Mamadou Bah for their help with data collection.


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Copyright information

© The New York Academy of Medicine 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sean C. Lucan
    • 1
    Email author
  • Andrew R. Maroko
    • 2
  • Omar C. Sanon
    • 3
  • Clyde B. Schechter
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Family and Social MedicineAlbert Einstein College of Medicine/Montefiore Medical CenterBronxUSA
  2. 2.Department of Health Sciences, Lehman CollegeCity University of New YorkBronxUSA
  3. 3.College of Arts and SciencesNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA

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