By Sam Gardner, FOXSports.com
According to the Centers for Disease Control, obesity rates have more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years, and if one new study is to be believed, Peyton Manning and other athletes like him may have had something to do with it.
A new paper published Monday in the journal Pediatrics revealed that Manning and LeBron James “had the most endorsements for energy-dense, nutrient-poor products” in 2010 and asserted that the world’s best athletes pitching unhealthy food and drinks “sends mixed messages” to adolescents, who see more TV ads featuring athletes endorsing food than anyone else.
“It is possible that food companies associate with athletes simply because they are celebrities,” the paper states, “but research shows that athlete endorsements are associated with higher healthfulness ratings on the products they endorse.”
As a result, the paper’s authors, including Marie Bragg, a doctoral student in clinical psychology at Yale, suggest that athletes shouldn’t be hocking unhealthy food products at all.
“Professional athletes have an important opportunity to promote the public’s health, particularly for youth, by refusing endorsement contracts that involve promotion of energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods and beverages,” the paper states. “In addition, countries worldwide should consider policies that would restrict food advertisements featuring professional athletes in youth-targeted media.”
The study started with 100 professional athletes selected for Bloomberg Businesweek’s 2010 Power 100 rankings. The athletes’ endorsements were sorted into 11 categories, and of the 512 brands endorsed by those 100 athletes, food and drinks represented the second-largest category (behind sporting goods and apparel), at 23.8 percent.
From there, the study found that “79 percent of the 62 food products in athlete-endorsed advertisements were energy-dense and nutrient poor, and 93.4 percent of the 46 advertised beverages had 100 percent of calories from added sugar.”
With regard to the then-Colts quarterback, specifically, Pediatrics found that Manning “had more advertisements for food or beverage products than any other athlete in the sample,” and his 28.9 score on in their athlete endorsement index — measured from 0 to 100 with lower scores reflecting worse impact on adolescent health — beat out Serena Williams (32.4) and James (42.8) as the lowest mark in the study.
To illustrate their point, the authors compared Manning and others to Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig and other athletes who appeared in cigarette advertisements in the early 1900s and warned that athletes who peddle junk foods, like celebrities who marketed cigarettes, may face a similar liability to the youths that partake in them.
Of course, getting Manning — who reportedly makes more than $10 million annually to hock Papa John’s pizza, swig Gatorade and lick Oreos on TV— to stop pitching junk food will be easier said than done. But at least if your kid is fat, you now know who to blame.
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