The bulk of food and beverage brands endorsed by professional athletes are for unhealthy products such as sugary sports drinks, soft drinks and fast food, our friends at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity report.
In a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, researchers find that the nation’s top professional athletes endorsed 44 different food and beverage brands in 2010. Seventy-nine percent of the 62 food products endorsed were energy-dense and nutrient-poor, and 93 percent of the 46 advertised drinks had 100 percent of calories from added sugar.
“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 Marie Bragg, the study’s lead author.
To conduct their research, Bragg and her co-authors studied 100 professional athletes based on Businessweek’s 2010 Power 100 report, which ranked athletes according to their prominence and endorsement value. Researchers then looked at the 2010 endorsements of the athletes, sorting them into categories such as food/beverages, automotive, consumer goods and entertainment.
Food and beverage brands were the second largest category of endorsements, behind sporting goods. Sports beverages were the largest individual category endorsed by athletes, followed by soft drinks and fast food.
According to the Rudd Center, this study is the first to examine the extent and reach of food and beverage marketing by athletes, which often has been criticized for promoting mixed-messaging to youth. Food and beverage ads featuring professional athletes were widely featured, appearing national on television, radio, the Internet and in a variety of publications.
Public health advocates criticized athletes for promoting the unhealthy products, noting that they have major influence over young people.
“Advertisements send powerful messages that can impact behavior — especially among our children and adolescents,” said Clyde Yancy, Magerstadt Professor of Medicine and Chief of the Division of Cardiology at Northwestern University. “We all have a right to choose the foods we eat but our children are too likely to follow the lead of a celebrity or star athlete.”
Yancy added that the message athletes should send is that fans should choose snacks and beverages wisely — healthy and tasty don’t have to be exclusive.
“For the sake of our children, so many of whom are already prone to obesity and chronic diseases, we should focus on sending the right message,” said Yancy, who also is a past-president of the American Heart Association. “Let’s use the ‘star power’ to drive healthy choices.”
Click here to read the full study, which is published in the November issue of Pediatrics.