When was the last time you reached for a product in the grocery store but changed your mind because a fit pro athlete on television suggested something else? You might not be as well off to trust them as you expect.
Over 80 per cent of the food and drink endorsements by professional athletes are not of the healthy variety, finds a new study in Pediatrics. Professional athletes are paid big bucks to endorse products, and most of the food and drink companies with the money to pay the bills also happen to be foods which are not best suited for a healthy lifestyle.
What researchers found is dripping with irony. Athletes such as LeBron James and Peyton Manning are perceived to be in elite physical condition, but yet are fronting foods that would actually hinder performance and promote an unhealthy lifestyle, researchers found. The study also found that many of these ads targeted children – who may not understand or recognize the difference between healthy and sugary food choices.
The study analyzed endorsements by 100 professional athletes. It found that 23.8 per cent of endorsements by these athletes were for food and beverage products, the second biggest category, only trailing sporting goods deals. Seventy-nine per cent of food products endorsed by these athletes were considered to be “energy-dense and nutrient-poor.” The results for drinks were worse still: 93.4 per cent of athlete-endorsed beverages, many of which are marketed a sports drinks, have 100 per cent of calories from added sugar.
Athletes in the past have endorsed cigarettes, something which today would be a public relations nightmare. But high-calorie, low-nutrient foods don’t hold as strong a taboo, even though their negative health effects are now well documented. Still, it’s not unusual to see high-profile professional athletes on billboards an in TV ads for fast food chains and sugary drinks.
Memorable for many Canadians, and certainly for runners, were the Ben Johnson endorsed Cheetah Power Surge energy drink ads. Ben may “Cheetah all the time,” but on Cheetah’s website the drink is marketed “to help students stay alert during late night parties,” something most don’t associate with high-calibre athletics.