Athlete-endorsed food and beverage products often unhealthy

Image: PD 

1. Among athlete-endorsed products investigated, food and beverages were the second most commonly marketed brands by athletes, with sporting goods/apparel being the most common.   

2. The majority of athlete-endorsed foods were considered “energy dense and nutrient poor”. 

Study Rundown: Previous research has shown that companies effectively use celebrities, particularly professional athletes, to create positive brand recognition, and parents believe food products are healthier when endorsed by professional athletes. As children often view these public figures as role models, athletes can greatly influence youth purchase preference through product endorsement. Investigators in the current study focused their research on determining the extent to which foods and beverages are endorsed by influential athletes, the nutrition value of these products, and the exposure of different age populations to these advertisements. Researchers found food and beverage brand endorsements were one of the most common athlete-endorsed products, second only to sporting goods. The majority of researched foods were determined to be highly caloric and low in nutritional value. Adolescents (12-17 years of age) viewed the most athlete-endorsed food commercials during the study period. Data for commercial exposure was limited as researchers were unable to access statistical information for all athlete endorsed advertisements. The study findings effectively emphasize adolescent exposure to athlete-endorsed products. Considering the association between athlete-endorsed products and perceived healthfulness, the potential for athletes to positively influence children’s eating habits through refusal to market unhealthy products is highlighted.

Click to read the study, published today in Pediatrics

Relevant Reading: Food marketing to children and youth: Threat or opportunity?

Study Author, Ms. Marie A. Bragg, MS, MPhil, talks to 2 Minute Medicine: Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity 

“Professional athletes endorse food and beverage products that are energy-dense and nutrient-poor, which is concerning for a country struggling with obesity. Adolescents see more ads for athlete-endorsed brands than adults and children, which is also alarming because research shows young people can be vulnerable to the negative effects of food marketing. Studies show overweight individuals are sometimes blamed for their excess weight, as though personal responsibility is the only factor involved in weight gain. Future physicians can play a critical role in reducing this weight stigma. Specifically, physicians should be aware that environmental factors, such as food marketing, also play a significant role in obesity. Nutrition education with patients can be helpful for weight control, but more can be done. Physicians can encourage patients to reduce screen-time, which can reduce their exposure to marketing and promote alternate healthy activities, like exercise.”

In-Depth: The 2010 food and beverage marketing endorsed by 100 prominent professional athletes featured in the Bloomberg Businessweek’s 2010 Power 100 were included for analysis. The Nutrient Profile Model was used to calculate overall nutrition scores for each athlete-endorsed food item based on nutrient contents. This allowed researchers to use a common scale to compare the health of foods. Beverages were defined as “energy dense and nutrient poor” if all calories came from added sugars. Statistical demographics pertaining to the viewing of each athlete commercial were obtained from the Nielsen Company. Each athlete was assigned an overall score based on their number of food endorsements, number of food advertisements, average nutrition score, and Power 100 ranking. This score was indicative an athlete’s “negative marketing and nutrition impact.”  Lebron James (basketball), Peyton Manning (football), and Serena Williams (tennis) had the most negative marketing and nutrition impact scores. It was found that out of 512 athlete product endorsements in 2010, 23.8% were food and beverage brand, 28.3% were sporting goods, and consumer goods accounted for 10.9%. According to calculated nutrition profile scores, 49 of 62 food products endorsed were considered “energy dense and nutrient poor.” Out of 46 beverages endorsed by professional athletes, 43 received all calories from added sugars. Among the 109 total athlete advertisements (TV, radio, etc…), 48 were TV food commercials. Adolescents (12-17 years) viewed more athlete-endorsed food product commercials than adults and children in 2010.

By Brandon Childs and Leah H. Carr

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