American (Athlete) Idols Peddle Products to Kids and Teens


youth sports nutrition sports drinks

Not too long ago, I wrote about what professional athletes are feeding your kids, where I explored the impact of food endorsements by professional athletes on children and teenagers. When kids see well-known athletes advertising food products like soft drinks, cookies or fast food, it changes their behavior. They ask for those foods, buy them and eventually prefer to eat them.
Now, there is more evidence that teens are the target of athlete-endorsed food marketing efforts. In fact, based on a very recent study in Pediatrics, researchers found that teens aged 12 to 17 years see more athlete-endorsed food commercials than adults.
Researchers wanted to know which food and beverages were being endorsed, and by whom. So they started the laundry list. First, they looked at 512 different brands endorsed by the pros. Twenty-four percent of these were for food and beverages. Of the 62 food products endorsed, 79 percent were high calorie, nutrient-poor sources, while 93 percent of the 46 different beverages endorsed had 100 percent of their calories from added sugar sources.
Sports beverages, soda and fast food were the top three categories, while specific products like Sprite, VitaminWater, McDonalds, Powerade, Gatorade, Wheaties Fuel, Nabisco, Pepsi, Oreo, 100 Calorie Snack Packs, Amp Energy and Red Bull were also on the list. You may glance at this and think ‘these aren’t that bad.’ 
What’s wrong with sports drinks? Nothing, if they are used appropriately. But, too often we find the little soccer player drinking sports drinks, when water would be ideal. You can read more about that here. What’s the big deal with energy drinks? Read this piece I wrote about targeting children for marketing efforts of energy drinks.
One of the biggest issues with professional athletes endorsing these products is that the pros are believable. Young kids and teens look up to these men and women and even idolize them. But here is the irony: it is unlikely these professional athletes eat the foods they endorse, and they certainly don’t make them part of their everyday diet. How could they and perform at a professional level?
The researchers even named names. Many names. Peyton Manning (football). LeBron James (basketball). Serena Williams (tennis). These three had the most endorsements for junk food than any other professional athletes, but there were more. Even organizations like the National Basketball Association (NBA), National Football League (NFL) and Major League Baseball (MLB) had the most athletes participating in food or beverage endorsements.
While I respect the athletic talents of these athletes, endorsing nutrition-poor foods or needless products to young athletes is misleading and senseless. Disheartening, too.
I say, make your millions off of your natural and hard-earned athletic talents, not off of children making poor food choices.
What do you say?

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Alliance for Youth Sports.

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