A new study published in the journal Pediatrics has found that junk food endorsements by celebrity athletes maybe having very very not-cool effects on kids. The study totted up the number of food and beverage products that were represented by athletes in 2010, and found that 79% were "energy-dense" junk food. And "around 93.4 percent of the beverages had 100 percent of their calories come from added sugar."
Now, it's not as though kids are just going to suddenly start liking Oreos because Peyton Manning told them to—kids like Oreos because Oreos are fucking delicious. But it is possible for certain foods to become trendy—lending caché to otherwise mundane snacks is pretty much the entire point of celebrity spokespersons. And endorsements by athletes in peak physical condition almost certainly obfuscate the adverse health effects of eating and drinking nothing but nutritionless calorie-bombs. "But it must be good for me! LeBron James drinks Sprite!" Yes, and he also runs around for a living, and also he probably doesn't really drink Sprite that much, and also "advertising" is French for "lying to you."
"Professional athletes wouldn't endorse tobacco today because it would be a liability for them," lead study author Marie Bragg, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Yale University, told the Globe and Mail. "We're hoping one day that the same would be true for unhealthy foods."
...The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) reported in March that 97 percent of kids' meals at 34 top chains did not meet recommended standards for nutrition. In June,, the World Health Organization urged companies to take responsibility when marketing unhealthy food to children. At the time, the agency pushed for stronger rules when it came to trying to sell food products to kids.
..."Of course the opposite is true. Drinking Sprite and eating at McDonald's is not going to make you play basketball like LeBron James any more than smoking cigarettes will make you ride a horse like the Marlboro Man," Jacobson added.
Uhhh, shyeah, bro. It's a bit infantilizing to suggest that consumers don't understand that advertising isn't real. I remember drinking Vin Baker Sprite as a kid and was still 99% certain that I would never have a career in the NBA (STILL HOLDING ON TO THAT 1% THO). But the way we advertise food to children—cereal made out of cookies being touted as "part of a nutritious breakfast" springs to mind—is unscrupulous to the point of maliciousness. Yes, people like sugary treats because sugar is delicious, and it is totally fine for people to eat junk food once in a while. But that doesn't mean you have to trick kids into thinking it's good for them too.
The real problem here is much bigger—it's the fact that that we mass-produce cheap garbage that's calorie-dense to the point of addictiveness, call it "food," advertise the shit out of it, sell it for next to nothing, and then blame consumers for being "unhealthy." I'm not even saying that celebrities shouldn't endorse junk food—they can endorse whatever they want—but it'd be nice if we put the same kind of time and money into fixing our broken food production/distribution system as we do into stigmatizing the people victimized by it.