Celebrities ‘mainly plug nutrient-poor, high-sugar products’
Celebrity endorsements for food and drink products from A-list stars including Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, will.i.am, Christina Aguilera and Mariah Carey, overwhelmingly plug brands that are nutrient poor and high in sugar, according to researchers investigating the impact of advertising. They say that the use of celebrities to market products to young people is contributing to childhood obesity.
“Because of [the US]’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,” said Dr Marie Bragg, a psychologist at New York University Langone medical centre who carried out the study with colleagues. “Research has already shown that food advertising leads to overeating and the food industry spends $1.8bn (£1.2bn) per year marketing to youth alone.”
The team looked at every endorsement collected in a US advertising industry database between 2000 and 2014. They identified 65 celebrities who had directly or indirectly advertised 57 different brands of food and beverage owned by 38 companies. The researchers defined endorsements not only as appearances in radio, television and magazine ads, but also as a celebrity’s participation in a concert sponsored by a product.
To score nutrient values for the products, the scientists used a set of indicators that also form a standard for child-targeted UK food marketing research. More than 80% of the selected 26 food products scored as nutrient poor. Of 69 beverages endorsed, 71% were sugar-sweetened.
The research follows an earlier study by the same group from 2013 which found that foods and drinks promoted by celebrity athletes were also overwhelmingly unhealthy.