Challenge: Think twice about athlete-endorsed products

Think all those buff, fit athletes are pitching products that are good for you? Think again. A new study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics examined food marketing endorsements from the 100 most popular professional athletes and found that the majority of the products they hawked were for sports beverages, soft drinks and fast food.

LeBron James, Peyton Manning, and Serena Williams had more food and beverage endorsements than any other athletes and were the most likely to be pitching energy-dense and nutrient-poor foods, according to the Yale University study authors. A whopping 93 percent of beverages endorsed by athletes received 100 percent of their calories from added sugars—like Powerade, Gatorade and Vitaminwater.

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Previous research suggests that consumers perceive products endorsed by athletes to be more healthful; that means parents may be more likely to buy a sugar-filled Powerade for their teen if they see LeBron James dribbling a basketball on the label.

“Professional athletes have an important opportunity to promote the public’s health, particularly for youth,” wrote the study authors, “by refusing endorsement contracts that involve promotion of” high-calorie foods and drinks with little nutritional value.

That’s not likely to happen anytime soon, but we should be mindful of these research findings when making purchases of foods that rank high in our minds as nutritious. Are we buying that “workout recovery drink” or sports supplement just because we’ve seen it touted by an athlete or celebrity trainer we admire?

Parents can use the new study finding as a valuable teaching tool for their children. And they can give them this message relayed by the nutrition activist group, Center for Science in the Public Interest, in response to the study: “Drinking Sprite and eating at McDonald’s is not going to make you play basketball like LeBron James any more than smoking cigarettes will make you ride a horse like the Marlboro Man.”

In fact, those behaviors will likely lower the likelihood of great athletic feats.