Are pro athletes encouraging unhealthy eating?
The next time you’re watching the big game on a Sunday afternoon, pay close attention to the commercials. You may see Payton Manning, quarterback for the Denver Broncos, pitching Papa John’s Pizza and Pepsi. Or you may see McDonald’s endorsed by Miami Heat star LeBron James. Or even Serena Williams dunking an Oreo.
A new study released by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, finds that high-calorie, low-nutrition foods are the second-largest category of brands endorsed by professional athletes, lead only by sporting goods. The researchers found sports beverages, such as Gatorade and Vitamin Water, to be most pitched by professional athletes, followed by soft drinks and fast foods. According to the study, 93 percent of the 46 beverages endorsed contain added sugars.
“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 missed signals about diet and health,” says Marie Bragg, the study’s lead author and doctoral candidate at Yale University in a statement.
As a result of the study, Bragg and her 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.”
And the product shilling may be working. In fact, another recent study links sugary drinks to obesity in children as young as 2-years-old.
“This can definitely have a potential impact on how kids are making food choices,” says Dr. Lisa Yeh, pediatric psychiatrist at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center’s Pediatric Developmental Center in Chicago. “Kids are impressionable and they follow role models. And these athletes look healthy, which can be a further influence to follow their behavior.”
According to Dr. Yeh, this isn’t the first time advertising of non-nutritious foods to children has come under fire. In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) called for a ban on fast food advertising during children’s programming.
“Kids see McDonald’s commercials all the time,” Dr. Yeh says. “Chances are, they’re going to want the food those they look up to say they’re eating.”
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