Childhood obesity, which currently affects around 18% of all American children between 6-11 years old, is considered to be the combination of poor diet, lack of physical activity, and environmental factors such as being from a house with overweight parents. There have been established links between food advertising that targets children and the rise in childhood obesity . Each year, American children see 4700 advertisements and teens see upwards of 5900 advertisements. This type of mass advertising is on the same scale of youth-directed tobacco advertisement prior to the early 2000’s. Tobacco ads are now restricted to targeting only those over the age of 18, however food and beverage marketing ads are only voluntarily limited to those under 12 years of age. In addition, celebrity endorsements have become increasingly popular and can often sway people to consume these products. A study recently published in the journal Pediatrics has highlighted that the majority of the food and beverages that celebrities endorse are unhealthy and full of sugar.
To estimate how popular a celebrity was, the researchers identified the artists from the Billboard Hot 100 Chart from the years 2013 and 2014. This totaled 163 individual celebrities. The researchers then searched advertisement databases and Youtube to find all the food and/or beverage endorsements of the 163 celebrities. In order to assess the degree of popularity, a surrogate of influence in this study, the group identified how many Teen Choice Awards the celebrities had won and how many times the celebrities endorsement/advertisement had been viewed on Youtube. These two metrics allowed the researchers to determine influence and relate their influence to the nutritional index of the food they were endorsing.
The researchers found that pop brands (like Pepsi and Coke) were the most common beverage item being endorsed compared to water related products (Brita filter and CORE hydration) which were only endorsed 3 times in the list. Pepsi had the largest list of celebrity endorsements at 23 with names like: Beyoncé, Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, and Justin Timberlake. Coke was next with 8 endorsements and names like: Calvin Harris, Christina Aguilera, Taylor Swift, and Maroon 5.
In the list, fast food was the most endorsed of the food category with McDonalds being top of the list. Celebrity endorsements included Brittany Spears and Justin Timberlake. The remainder of the endorsements included chips, candy, cereal, and other snacks. Sadly, there was not a single endorsement for any fruit, vegetable, or healthy grains. The only food to get a healthy score (66/100) was Wonderful Pistachio.
Most of the celebrities on the list of endorsements were frequently nominated for a teen choice award (102/163) and were viewed a total of over 310 million times on Youtube. Pepsi’s 2004 commercial ‘We Will Rock You’ with Brittany Spears, Pink, and Beyoncé was viewed over 42 million times. In fact, Pepsi’s celebrity endorsed products had the most Youtube views of any other brand on the list (160 million).
The results of this paper make it clear that celebrity endorsements overwhelmingly support unhealthy food and drinks. These celebrities are the idols our children follow and their endorsements carry a lot of influence when it comes to the food and drinks our kids want to consume. While this is not the sole reason obesity is on the rise, it certainly provides the excuse that “it’s the cultural norm, we just want our kids to fit in”. This narrative has been played out before with tobacco advertisements. Some control over the content being advertised to children will always be a topic of discussion, but swaying celebrity endorsements towards healthier options will be a powerful tool in helping our children pick healthy food options.
Image Credit: Takashi Hososhima from Tokyo, Japan