Athletes are paid enormous salaries, and make even more, millions more in fact, in endorsement deals. It’s logical that many of the endorsements are with athlete-friendly brands, like David Beckham for Adidas or the bevy of pro and Olympic athletes who appear in Subway commercials. It makes sense, athletes supporting exercise gear and healthy food choices.
However, a new study released by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale found that many of the most popular athletes are becoming the faces of unhealthy products directed specifically at kids.
As a marketing idea, it’s a winner. Who better to encourage kids to want junk food than their favorite athletes, heroes even? Not only do children look up to these athletes, they also view them as someone in optimum physical health. If Peyton Manning says he eats Oreos and Papa John’s, surely they can’t be that bad for you, right?
Wrong. Manning, LeBron James and Serena Williams top the list of athletes most likely to have a sponsorship deal with a consumer company. In fact, James and Manning promote the least nutritious and most caloric food of any other athletes examined in the study.
From a health perspective, the use of professional athletes in marketing unhealthy foods and beverages is a big loser. It is no secret the country is facing a major obesity problem, especially in kids and teens. In the last 30 years, obesity rates have doubled in children and tripled in teenagers. Though the obesity problem has many causes, it may be fair to put some blame on the athletes kids idolize endorsing junk food.
In a study last year, it was shown that teenagers receive 10 to 15 percent of their caloric intake from beverages sweetened with sugar. Sugar-sweetened beverages like sports drinks make up 93 percent of the beverages endorsed by athletes according to the study. Teens drinking these beverages are also more likely to eat at fast-food restaurants more often and not be as physically active. They’re also the ones most likely to see commercials featuring their favorite athletes showing support for unhealthy food.
Due to the large dollar amounts associated with endorsement deals, it’s unlikely that athletes will stop promoting junk food anytime soon. We can only hope that one day an athlete appearing in a junk food commercial will be a rare sight.