There is no question that young people look up to celebrities, following their every tweet and influenced to buy the products they endorse.  Back in the 1900’s, baseball players such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, and Joe DiMaggio earned a lot of money promoting tobacco products in popular media (newspaper, magazine, and newsreel advertisements in those days).  With so much now known about the disastrous health effects brought on by tobacco products, few celebrities (and no athletes) would endorse these products today (though this famous person thinks that this nicotine-delivery device is okay).

Today’s athletes help market products that are clearly directed at our culture’s youngest consumers: our kids.  A lot of these products are obviously not healthy.  The NFL’s biggest product endorser is Peyton Manning (Gatorade).  The NBA has Kobe Bryant ($12 million from McDonalds alone) and LeBron James ($5 million for Bubblicious Gum).  Oreo Double Stuf cookies seem to be popular among promoters Shaquille O’Neil, Venus and Serena Williams, Peyton and Eli Manning, and Apolo Ohno.  Other athletes — Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (Amp Energy and Mountain Dew), Ryan Howard (Powerade), and Sidney Crosby (Gatorade) — are also in on the action.  (It should be noted that some of these athletes also promote important and positive causes, like The United Way, or at least, neutral products, like Peyton Manning’s endorsements of Sony and DIRECTV.)

Researchers wanted to know just how these high profile endorsements of food and beverage products by athletes — our models of good health and fitness — might affect children:

The use of professional athlete endorsements in food marketing campaigns has been criticized by the public health community for promoting energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods and sending mixed messages about fitness, health, and diet, yet no studies have examined the extent and reach of such marketing. This study aimed to (1) determine the frequency of professional athletes’ endorsement of food and beverage products, (2) evaluate the nutritional quality of the food products endorsed by professional athletes, and (3) assess the marketing exposure of children, adolescents, and adults to professional athletes’ endorsement of food products.


The results have been published in Pediatrics:

These results reveal a high prevalence of food/beverage brand endorsements among professional athletes. LeBron James (basketball), Peyton Manning (football), and Serena Williams (tennis) had more food and beverage brand endorsements than any other athletes in the sample. 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. Food and beverage brands were the second- largest category of endorsements behind sporting goods, and most of these food and beverage brand endorsements were for sports beverages, soft drinks, and fast-food companies. In addition, most of the food and beverage products appearing in athlete-endorsement advertisements featured energy-dense, nutrient-poor products.


These results shouldn’t be surprising.  While today’s professional athletes have the opportunity to endorse products that promote healthy lifestyles, the fact is, that’s not where the money is.


(Yahoo! Images)