Report: Pro Athletes Are Mostly Shilling Junk Food To Kids

One of the perks of being a professional athlete is that you get paid the big bucks to endorse products, based on the premise that your fans will buy anything you put your name on. But one report says those lucrative endorsement deals are often tied to unhealthy foods marketed toward kids.

Famous faces like Peyton Manning, Serena Williams and LeBron James are just a few of the personalities topping the list of athletes endorsing high-calorie, nutrient poor food and beverages in 2010, says a report in November’s Pediatrics (via USA Today).

The main targets for those products? Kids ages 12 to 17, who were the primary viewers of pro athlete food commercials. Those kids eyeballed an average of 35 TV ads in 2010 compared to 33 for adults and 21 for kids 11 and under.

“Professional athletes in general are endorsing a lot of unhealthy foods, which is concerning for a country that’s struggling with obesity,” says lead author Marie Bragg, a health policy researcher at Yale University. These athletes “could do a lot of good to promote public health, but unfortunately they are promoting foods that are really unhealthy,” she says.

The top 100 athletes (as ranked by Bloomberg Businessweek’s 2010 Power 100) endorsed a total of 513 brands, says the study, and 24% of those were food and beverage brands.

A total of 79% of 62 food products endorsed were high-calorie and poor in nutrients, said the study, with 93% of 46 advertised drinks getting 100% of their calories from added sugar.

Using a system of generating scores for each athlete based on where they’re ranked in the Power 100, the number of ads and food endorsements each had and the highest percentage of those

Things could’ve changed since 2010, points out the study’s authors, as it’s meant to be “an exploratory study of what the landscape looks like.”

Despite the years in between when the data was culled and the findings, the results “clarify how many athletes are pitching so many different kinds of foods, almost all of them unhealthy,” Michael Jacobson, executive director of the advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest tells USA Today.

His hope is that the research “will inspire some reflection on the part of athletes and professional sports leagues — as well as all other celebrities for that matter.”

Athlete Endorsements in Food Marketing [Pediatrics]
Pro athletes’ ads favor less healthful food, drinks [USA Today]