Study Says Sports Stars Are Making Kids Fat with Those Ads for Junk Food

Gabe Zaldivar@gabezalPop Culture Lead WriterOctober 9, 2013

MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 6: LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat looks on during the Red & White scrimmage game on October 6, 2013 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)
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We can all blame LeBron James for pants that don't fit. 

SportsGrid's Rick Chandler spotted a rather telling Yale University study about the marketing of sugary drinks and delicious junk food by celebrity athletes. The study has revealed that perhaps your favorite athlete is contributing to the epidemic of childhood obesity. 

From the American Academy of Pediatrics, the report is entitled, "Athlete Endorsements in Food Marketing," and here is what it found:

Seventy-nine percent of the 62 food products in athlete-endorsed advertisements were energy-dense and nutrient-poor, and 93.4% of the 46 advertised beverages had 100% of calories from added sugar. Peyton Manning (professional American football player) and LeBron James (professional basketball player) had the most endorsements for energy-dense, nutrient-poor products. Adolescents saw the most television commercials that featured athlete endorsements of food.

Thanks for all the touchdowns, slam dunks and funny ads, but you are making our kids fat, guys. 

The report also gives a handy little ranking on the stars who boast the most brand endorsements. Here are the top five, which obviously feature some very marketable faces. 

  1. LeBron James
  2. Peyton Manning
  3. Serena Williams
  4. Chris Paul
  5. Joe Mauer

Look at Mauer dropping in with his Gatorade- and Pepsi-swilling self. Congrats, Bud. 

In an interesting note, the report makes reference to historical sports icons and that one product they used to endorse despite it not being good for you. You know which one we are talking about: cigarettes. 

As the report states, tobacco companies utilized stars such as Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and they were happy to do so until the Cigarette Advertising Code of 1964. 

Essentially, the same sentiment applies: Sports stars make bad things feel safe. At least, that's what may be at the heart of this captivating report. 

This isn't the only report proclaiming endorsements work to the detriment of health. 

A 2011 report off the NCBI website (National Center for Biotechnology Information) delivered results of parents' propensity to purchase "energy-dense and nutrient-poor" products for the family if celebrities endorsed them. According to the report, 56 percent of the participants felt comfy and cozy enough to not check the nutritional information for products endorsed by big, strong athletes. 

If you don't think marketing ploys and commercials are helping push junk food to the masses, ask yourself why companies would pour so much money into them year after year. 

Seems like a pretty dumb thing to do if it were so ineffective. 

Some, like social epidemiologist Abdul El-Sayed, are ready to plead with the likes of King James to pick his products better. El-Sayed posted an open letter back in 2012 asking the Heat star to choose healthier when considering his endorsements. 

We would like to encourage the rest of you to choose just as wisely when perusing at the grocery store. 

Then there are others, like president and founder of sports-marketing agency rEvolution John Rowady, who think this is all a lot of silly guff, via NBC News (h/t SportsGrid).

These athletes become easy picking for advocates pushing different social-change platforms. ... I guarantee that in a few years (health watchdogs) will say that (smart phones), with all the texting going on, constitutes an unhealthy lifestyle. Then you can ask the same question about why LeBron James endorses the Samsung Galaxy?

On one side of the spectrum, we have a study that states sports stars' commercials drive sales of unhealthy food. On the other, people like Rowady are questioning what we consider an unhealthy lifestyle. 

Clearly, there is a wide chasm separating the two camps. 

In the middle lies a sedentary American collective that is content to recline in their downtime, drink beer, order soda pop for the kids and chow down on pizza and other delicious food. 

The pounds pack on as the wallets of celebrities and junk food companies get fatter. Perhaps sports stars should hype healthy, and maybe parents can do the same. 

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