Denver Broncos' Peyton Manning endorses a lot of foods that are calorie dense but nutrition poor, a new study says. | AP
Peyton Manning, Serena Williams and LeBron James are among the nation’s most prominent and marketable athletes, but they also topped the list for endorsing high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods and beverages in 2010, a report shows.
Kids ages 12 to 17 were the primary viewers of athletes’ food commercials. They watched an average of 35 TV ads in 2010, vs. 33 for adults. Kids 11 and younger averaged 21, says the study in November’s Pediatrics, online today.
“Professional athletes in general are endorsing a lot of unhealthy foods, which is concerning for a country struggling with obesity,” says lead author Marie Bragg, a health policy researcher at Yale University.
Researchers tracked endorsements by the top 100 athletes as identified by Bloomberg Businessweek’s 2010 Power 100 rankings, which ranks athletes by their endorsement value and prominence in their sport. Researchers generated scores that also accounted for number and percentage of food vs. other endorsements and the health value of foods endorsed. Of 513 brands endorsed by the top 100 athletes:
24 percent were food and beverages, second to sporting goods or apparel.
79 percent of 62 foods endorsed were high-calorie and poor in nutrients.
93 percent of 46 advertised drinks got 100 percent of calories from added sugar.
Sports beverages had 39 endorsements; soft drinks had 21 and fast foods, 16.
The study does not address how the athletes’ endorsements may have changed since 2010, says Bragg.
NBA star James had the most food and beverage endorsements, including Sprite, McDonald’s and Powerade. Quarterback Manning was second, with Gatorade and Pepsi. Tennis champ Williams was third, with Kraft, Oreo and Gatorade, among others.
Baseball player Ryan Howard endorsed the fewest high-calorie, nutrition-poor foods.
Experts working with the NFL’s youth fitness downplayed the influence of endorsements on kids.
NFL players motivate students “to be active and healthy,” said physician Kenneth Cooper in a statement.
Perhaps the research “will inspire some reflection on the part of athletes and professional sports leagues — as well as all other celebrities,” says Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.