If you want your kid to grow up to throw 20 touchdown passes over his first five NFL games, the last thing you should do is let him watch Peyton Manning in TV commercials, says a new university study. Yale University has ranked the top sports celebrity purveyors of junk food, and concludes that athletes such as LeBron James, Serena Williams and Manning are making your kid fat and unhealthy.
Just looking at the photo above kind of says it all, and has more than once caused Michael Bloomberg to activate the Bat Signal over Gotham. According to the study (pdf), 79 percent of the 62 food products advertised by athletes were “energy-dense and nutrient-poor”, and 93.4 percent of 46 advertised beverages “had 100 percent of calories from added sugar.”
The worst offenders? The paper ranked them, and LeBron, Peyton and Serena finished first, second and third, respectively. Fourth? Chris Paul and his McDonald’s-loving ways. And Sidney Crosby finished in the top ten. The study was conducted in 2010.
“When taking into account the nutrient quality of the products endorsed and the amount of advertising for each product, Peyton Manning, LeBron James, and Serena Williams are the highest contributors to the marketing of unhealthy foods,” said Marie Bragg, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in clinical psychology at Yale University.
The promotion of those meals “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,” wrote the authors, who compared the modern players’ food peddling to the cigarette ads of bygone sports stars like Babe Ruth and Ted Williams.
As an example, one of the reasons the Honus Wagner 1909 Piedmont Cigarette T206 baseball card is so rare is that Wagner, so the story goes, yanked them from production because he didn’t want children being influenced to smoke. Might a modern-day Wagner step up and say “No more chicken tenders”?
RESULTS: Of 512 brands endorsed by 100 different athletes, sporting goods/apparel represented the largest category (28.3%), followed by food/beverages (23.8%) and consumer goods (10.9%). Professional athletes in this sample were associated with 44 different food or beverage brands during 2010. Seventy-nine percent of the 62 food products in athlete-endorsed advertisements were energy-dense and nutrient-poor, and 93.4% of the 46 advertised beverages had 100% of calories from added sugar. Peyton Manning (professional American football player) and LeBron James (professional basketball player) had the most endorsements for energy-dense, nutrient-poor products. Adolescents saw the most television commercials that featured athlete endorsements of food.
CONCLUSIONS: Youth are exposed to professional athlete endorsements of food products that are energy-dense and nutrient-poor.
By the study is actually just so much junk science, says sports marketing expert John Rowady:
“These athletes become easy picking for advocates pushing different social-change platforms,” said Rowaday, president and founder of rEvolution, a sports-marketing and media agency whose clients include Chipotle and Red Bull.
“I guarantee that in a few years (health watchdogs) will say that (smart phones), with all the texting going on, constitutes an unhealthy lifestyle,” Rowaday added. “Then you can ask the same question about why LeBron James endorses the Samsung Galaxy?”
The problem with that logic is that we can pretty much agree right now that junk food is bad for you. But texting? Jury’s still out … unless you’re driving, or walking near open manhole covers. So Rowaday’s argument is based on conjecture … not to mention a buzz from all that Red Bull.
Let’s not forget the reason that athletes are hawking this stuff in the first place: Papa John wants you to buy his pizza. And according to an Australian health study, parents are more inclined to buy junk food for their kids if endorsed by an athlete.
Is Peyton Manning a pusher? Well, no athlete ever had to bend my arm to get me to eat pizza. But if we’re trying to promote a healthier lifestyle for our children, Mr. Rocket Arm sure isn’t helping. I guess it comes down to the age-old question: do successful athletes have a social contract with youngsters, in which the kids agree to attend games and boost TV ratings and wear jerseys, and the players agree to be positive role models and not make them fat?