According to HealthDay News on Monday, professional athletes may be known for their fitness, but the foods they endorse are usually less than healthy, a new study finds.
Of 512 brands endorsed by 100 top athletes, nearly a quarter of them (122) were for food and beverages – 44 different brands in 2010, the year studied by researchers from Yale, Stanford, Duke and Harvard universities. (Some brands appeared more than once on the list.)
Nearly 80% of the 49 food products were "energy-dense and nutrient-poor," and 93% of the 73 beverages got all of their calories from added sugar, according to the study.
Experts said the findings, reported online Oct. 7 and in the November print issue of Pediatrics, are not startling. But they are concerning, in part because athletes are paragons of fitness, said Dr. Michael Rich, a pediatrician and director of the Center on Media and Child Health, in Boston.
"You see them everywhere -- TV, newspapers, magazines, the Internet," Rich said. And based on Nielsen data, her team found, teenagers see those TV ads more often than adults do. That's troubling, Bragg said, because teenagers often idolize sports stars. And, he added, "kids are much more likely to see TV ads than to read nutrition labels on products."
Sports beverages were the largest category of athlete endorsements, with 39, followed by soft drinks with 21 and fast food with 16, the researchers wrote. The products in tennis star Serena Williams' ads had the worst scores for nutrition.
Peyton Manning had the most ads for food and beverages with 25, followed by baseball player Ryan Howard with 21. Howard, the researchers wrote, endorsed the fewest energy-dense, nutrient-poor products. He reportedly earns $10 million a year from contracts with Papa John’s Pizza, Gatorade, Wheaties and other companies that do not sell food, the researchers said.
Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant earned an estimated $12 million a year from his endorsement contract with McDonald’s, they said. Lebron James, also a basketball star, was reported to receive $5 million to endorse Bubblicious Gum; one flavor was called LeBron’s Lightning Lemonade.
“Our ultimate hope would be that athletes reject the unhealthy endorsements or, at the very least, promote healthy foods,” said Marie Bragg, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in clinical psychology at Yale University. “These athletes have an opportunity to work with parents. Instead, they’re promoting really unhealthy foods.”
Emily Sutherlin is also the Pregnancy Examiner.
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