Star athletes often endorse junk food, study finds

Jonathan Marker | Science Recorder | October 08, 2013

Star athletes often endorse junk food, study finds

LeBron James, Peyton Manning, and Serena Williams had more food and beverage endorsements than any of the other athletes examined.

A recent study conducted by researchers at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University found that the majority of food and beverage brands endorsed by professional athletes are unhealthy, such as those for sports drinks, sodas, and fast food fare.  Supported by grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Rudd Foundation, the full results of the study will appear in the November issue of Pediatrics.

Researchers analyzed data collected in 2010 from Nielson and AdScope advertisement databases, and found that adolescents aged 12 to 17 viewed the greatest number of television ads for athlete-endorsed food.  Public health officials have previously censured the use of athlete endorsements in food marketing campaigns, as marketing campaigns have sought to promote unhealthy foods and send mixed messages to young audiences about health.  However, this is the first study to investigate the extent and reach of this type of marketing.

The researchers selected 100 professional athletes to study based on BusinessWeek’s 2010 Power 100 report, which ranked athletes based on their endorsement value and celebrity in their respective sport. Endorsement information came from the Power 100 list and AdScope.  From there, the researchers sorted the endorsements into the following categories: food/beverages, automotive, consumer goods, service providers, entertainment, finance, communications/office, sporting goods/apparel, retail, airline, and other uncategorized endorsements.

512 brands were associated with these athletes, though food and beverage brands were the second largest such category of endorsements behind sporting goods.  “We found that LeBron James (NBA), Peyton Manning (NFL), and Serena Williams (tennis) had more food and beverage endorsements than any of the other athletes examined,” said Marie Bragg, the study’s lead author and a doctoral candidate at Yale.  “Most of the athletes who endorsed food and beverages were from the NBA, followed by the NFL, and MLB.”

“The promotion of energy-dense, nutrient-poor products by some of the world’s most physically fit and well-known athletes is an ironic combination that sends mixed messages about diet and health,” said Bragg.

The largest individual category of athlete endorsements, sports beverages were followed by soft drinks and fast food.  According to the researchers, 93 percent of the 46 beverages analyzed in the study that were endorsed by athletes received all of their calories from added sugars.

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