Music stars endorse mostly unhealthy food and drinks

Music stars
Video screen capture YouTube

Pop songs and soda pop make for an unfortunate connection, with the nation's youth suffering because of it.

Consider these three facts:

1. Each year, food and beverage companies spend $2 billion on advertising that targets kids; American children see somewhere around 4,700 ads for such, and teens see around 5,900 ads annually.

2. A number of studies have identified food and beverage marketing as a significant environmental contributor to childhood obesity.

3. In 2012, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Public Health Service.

They add up to a pretty clear picture of the mess we have on our hands here, a one-two-three punch of "marketing leads to obesity leads to a health crisis." Toss some entertainment types into the mix and things get even messier, as research confirms, finding that celebrity endorsements lead to even higher product preference amongst kids.

It would be so nice if popular figures wielded their influence with healthy products. But alas, a new study from NYU Langone Medical Center reveals that most of the food and beverages endorsed by the most popular stars – in the music field, at least – is unhealthy.

The study concludes that “music celebrities who are popular among adolescents endorse energy-dense, nutrient-poor products.”

None of the music stars identified in the study endorsed fruits, vegetables, or whole grains. Only one endorsed a natural food that falls in the healthy bucket: pistachios. Woohoo.

Believed to be the first study to use a rigorous nutritional analysis to examine the healthfulness of food and drinks marketed by music stars, the team identified popular music stars as qualified by Billboard Magazine's "Hot 100" song charts from 2013 and 2014, as well as winners from the Teen Choice Awards. They identified 163 pop stars for consideration.

Then they poured over 14 years’ worth of advertising and sorted endorsements into different marketing categories; they found that 65 of the 163 pop stars were associated with 57 different food and beverage brands. They used something called the Nutrient Profile Model and discovered that 21 out of 26 food products (81 percent) were deemed "nutrient poor." As far as drinks go, 49 out of 69 (71 percent) of the beverages endorsed were sugar-sweetened. Full-calorie soft drinks were endorsed the most frequently; water-related endorsements appeared three times.

"These celebrity endorsement deals are often worth millions of dollars each, suggesting companies find them critical for promoting products," says lead author Marie Bragg, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone.

"Because of our nation's childhood and teenage obesity public health crises, it is important to raise awareness about how companies are using celebrities popular with these audiences to market their unhealthy products," adds Bragg.

There are clearly a lot of public figures out there doing good things, but these findings are discouraging. Food marketers have so many tricks up their sleeves when it comes to seducing kids into lusting after junk food; do these stars realize the part they’re playing in this endeavor? Maybe endorsing tap water isn't that glamorous, and yeah doesn't pay millions, but think of the kids!

“The popularity of music celebrities among adolescents makes them uniquely poised to serve as positive role models,” says Alysa N. Miller, MPH, study co-author and research coordinator in the Department of Population Health.“Celebrities should be aware that their endorsements could exacerbate society’s struggle with obesity – and they should endorse healthy products instead.”

Tags: Diseases | Health

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