sports drink

Pro athletes market mostly junk food

Teenagers ages 12 to 17 see the most TV ads for food endorsed by athletes—which are often for unhealthy products like sports drinks, soda, and fast food.

Analyzing data collected in 2010 from Nielsen and AdScope, an advertisement database, the study appears in the November issue of Pediatrics.

Previous research by public health advocates has criticized the use of athlete endorsements in food marketing campaigns for often promoting unhealthy food and sending mixed messages to youth about health, but this is the first study to examine the extent and reach of such marketing.

Researchers selected 100 professional athletes to study based on Businessweek’s 2010 Power 100 report, which ranked athletes according to their endorsement value and prominence in their sport. Information about each athlete’s endorsements was gathered from the Power 100 list and AdScope.

Researchers then sorted the endorsements into categories: food/beverages, automotive, consumer goods, service providers, entertainment, finance, communications/office, sporting goods/apparel, retail, airline, and other. They assessed the nutritional quality of the foods featured in athlete-endorsement advertising, along with the marketing data.

Of the 512 brands associated with these athletes, food and beverage brands were the second largest 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. Most of the athletes who endorsed food and beverages were from the NBA, followed by the NFL, and MLB,” says Marie Bragg, the study’s lead author and a doctoral candidate at Yale University.

Sports beverages were the largest individual category of athlete endorsements, followed by soft drinks, and fast food. Most—93 percent—of the 46 beverages being endorsed by athletes received all of their calories from added sugars.

Food and beverage advertisements associated with professional athletes had far-reaching exposure, with ads appearing nationally on television, the internet, the radio, in newspapers, and magazines.

“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,” says Bragg.

Bragg and co-authors assert that professional athletes should be aware of the health value of the products they are endorsing, and should use their status and celebrity to promote healthy messages to youth.

Other authors include Swati Yanamadala, Christina Roberto, and Jennifer L. Harris of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale, and Kelly Brownell of Duke University.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Rudd Foundation supported the research.

Source: Yale University