The Problem with Celebrity Endorsements

June 6th 2016

Kyle Jaeger

Celebrities could be inadvertently fueling America's obesity epidemic, new research published on Monday suggest.

A first-of-its-kind study published in the journal Pediatrics found that the majority of food and beverage items that celebrity personalities endorse are unhealthy, and the consumers most likely to be influenced by these advertisements are adolescents and teens.

"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," Dr. Marie Bragg, the lead author of the study, said in a press release. "Research has already shown that food advertising leads to overeating, and the food industry spends $1.8 billion per year marketing to youth alone."

How researchers reached this conclusion.

Researchers at NYU's Langone Medical Center wanted to ensure that the celebrities included in their study were really popular, so they consulted Billboard Magazine's "Hot 100" song charts from 2013 and 2014. They also assessed marketing appeal among teens by looking at Teen Choice Award winners and the number of YouTube video views for advertisements of unhealthy foods featuring celebrities.

After verifying their celebrity status, the researchers used the advertising database AdScope to compile a list of their endorsements from 2000 to 2014. The nutritional value of those food and beverage items were then analyzed based on nutrient content and calories.

Of the 26 food products that celebrities endorsed, 21 (81 percent) were deemed "nutrient poor." Of the 69 beverages that these high-profile individuals endorsed, 49 (71 percent) were sugar-sweetened. Only three of the beverages were "water-related," the researchers noted, and only one food item (pistachios) was natural.

"The popularity of music celebrities among adolescents makes them uniquely poised to serve as positive role model," Alysa Miller, the study's co-author and research coordinator, said in a press release. "Celebrities should be aware that their endorsements could exacerbate society's struggle with obesity — and they should endorse healthy products instead."

That said, celebrities aren't soley responsible for the obesity epidemic, and the public health crisis would likely exist even without Taylor Swift-featured Diet Coke commercials. Many unhealthy foods and beverages — sodas, fast food, and snack items — are chemically addictive, with ingredients that are designed to keep consumers coming back for more, the New York Times reports. In other words, unhealthy food basically sells itself.

Some facts about obesity in America.

teen obesity

The childhood obesity rate has doubled in the U.S. over the past 30 years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. For adolescents, the obesity rate has quadrupled during that same time span. In general, more than one-third of American children were either overweight or obese in 2012.

Childhood obesity is associated with various short-term and long-term health conditions. It increases an individual's risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and osteoarthritis, to name a few. But there are also social and psychological problems that young people with obesity face, including struggles with stigmatization and body image.

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