Targeted marketing of high-calorie foods is promoting unhealthy eating among African Americans, according to new research in the US.

The review, published in the September issue of the American Journal of Public Health, claims the marketing exposes African American consumers to more unhealthy messages around eating and limits their access to healthy foods, compared to whites or the general population.

The overall effects of these marketing strategies may contribute to the significantly higher rates of obesity among African Americans than in whites, says the study's lead author, Sonya Grier.

"It's hard to make healthy choices when all the signals and supports in your environment tell you to do just the opposite," said Grier. "One way to make a dent in the obesity epidemic is to reverse those messages so that marketing efforts support healthier eating among African Americans."

Study researchers considered four tools used by food and beverage marketers to reach particular target markets: products that are offered to a market; promotions, including advertising and other types of persuasive communications; place, referring to the distribution and availability of specific products; and price.

Grier says marketers should take a "hard" look at how their practices may be contributing to racial and ethnic disparities in obesity and suggests media should seek out healthier food promotions and communities should advocate for greater access to healthier foods.