Celebrities ‘mainly plug nutrient-poor, high-sugar products’

-Alist music superstars are unknowingly contributing to childhood obesity, according to research by New York University

Celebrity endorsements for food and drinking products from -Alist stars including Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, will.i.am, Christina Aguilera and Mariah Carey, overwhelmingly plug brands that are nutrient poor and high in sugar, according to researchers investigating the impact of ad. They say that the use of celebrities to marketplace products to young people is contributing to childhood obesity.

Because of[ the US] s childhood and teenage obesity public health crisis, it is important to raise awareness about how companies are employing celebrities popular with these audiences to market their unhealthy products, said Dr Marie Bragg, a psychologist at New York University Langone medical centre who carried out the study with colleagues. Research has already shown that food advertising leads to overeating and the food industry spends $1.8 bn( 1.2 bn) per year marketing to youth alone.

The team looked at every endorsement collected in a US advertising industry database between 2000 and 2014. They identified 65 celebrities who had directly or indirectly advertised 57 different brands of food and liquor owned by 38 companies. The researchers defined endorsements not only as appearances in radio, television and publication ads, but also as a celebritys participation in a concert sponsored by a product.

To score nutrient values for the products, the scientists use a set of indicators that also form a standard for child-targeted UK food marketing research. More than 80% of the selection of 26 food products scored as nutrient poor. Of 69 beverages endorsed, 71% were sugar-sweetened.

The biggest category of endorsements overall was for full-calorie soft drink. Pepsi, for instance, was endorsed by, among many others, Beyonce, Britney Spears, Christine Aguilera, Enrique Iglesias, Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, Mariah Carey, Calvin Harris, Nicki Minaj, One Direction, Shakira and will.i.am. Christine Aguilera, Calvin Harris and will.i.am also endorsed Coca-Cola. Taylor Swift was the only name from the sample associated with Diet Coke.

There were no endorsements for fruit, veggies, or whole grains but one celebrity endorsed Wonderful Pistachio, which was the only food product with a healthy rating, the researchers wrote in the paper published in the publication Pediatrics.

One in three children in Europe where some of the products endorsed are also sold between the ages of six and nine are either overweight or obese, according to a study published last week. While research predicted that around a fifth of all adults around the world will be obese by 2025, with potentially disastrous health repercussions. Nutrition experts are systematically warned about the impact of fast foods, sweets and sugared beverages on public health.

The American Beverage Association, which speaks for the US soft drinks industry, did not respond to a request for commentary. But in May the association said it had responded to a 2010 challenge by the first lady, Michelle Obama, by putting prominent and clearly calorie labels on bottles. We believe people should have clear and understandable nutrition facts about foods and beverages so that they can construction an informed decision that are right for themselves and their families, the statement said.

Dr Bragg said she hoped that the companies would take a closer look at the kinds of products they are promoting and shift some of the endorsements to include healthier liquors and foods. That would really help young people and mothers in their efforts to make healthy liquor selections. Most of these companies do have healthier alternatives but what we see in our study was that the endorsements featured sugary beverages and unhealthy foods, with very little promotion of healthy products.

She also hoped that her study would provoke more discussion among music industry performers, she said. I imagine its hard to turn down a multimillion dollar endorsement offer, so perhaps they could play an active role in necessitating their endorsements to be low-calorie liquors or nutrient-rich foods. I imagine companies that are eager to sign these superstars might be responsive to those kinds of requests.

Food and beverages companies in the US have voluntarily pledged not to target children under 12. Dedicated the heavy targeting of adolescents and the amount of money they spend on foods and beverages, voluntary food marketing pledges should expand to include teens, Dr Bragg said.

The research follows an earlier study by the same group from 2013 which found that foods and drinkings promoted by celebrity athletes were also overwhelmingly unhealthy.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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