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Don't be fooled when an athlete endorses a food or drink

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  October 7, 2013 07:48 AM

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Thumbnail image for lebron_james.jpgAs part of my routine questions about my patients' diets, I always ask what they drink when they are thirsty. When I am talking to adolescents, far too often the answer is Gatorade or another sports drink.

When I explain that sports drinks aren't healthy because they are full of sugar, I get puzzled looks from kids and parents. But the athletes on TV drink them, they say.

The athletes on commercials do, that's true. There are all sorts of images of them working hard and sweating--and then downing the bright-colored sports drinks and jumping back into action. They really do make it seem like the drinks make you perform better. And since they are professional athletes, whose livelihood depends on them being healthy, the foods and drinks they promote on TV must be good for you, right?

Not so much. According to a study in the journal Pediatrics, the majority of the food and beverage brand endorsements by professional athletes were for sports drinks, soft drinks and fast food, foods that the researchers call "energy-dense and nutrient-poor". That's a scientific way of saying they are full of calories and low on anything good for you. 

Lebron James recently signed a multimillion dollar deal with Coca Cola to promote Powerade, a sports drink, and Sprite. Of the 46 beverages endorsed by athletes, 93 percent of them get all of their calories from added sugar. This is not stuff you want your kids drinking. He has also promoted McDonalds, as has Serena Williams. Peyton Manning has been a champion of Papa John's pizza and Oreos.

Who knows if the athletes actually eat and drink this stuff. I kinda doubt they eat or drink a lot of it, or they wouldn't be healthy. But these endorsements aren't about helping your child or anyone be healthy. They aren't about public health. They are about making money, as much of it as possible. Professional athletes aren't going to get paid big bucks by organic farmers, and they won't make much of anything by suggesting we drink tap water.

So use a bit of healthy skepticism, and encourage your kids to do the same. Just because a professional athlete endorses something doesn't mean it's good for you. 

Get advice on what to eat and drink from your doctor, instead. They actually do care about you and your health.

Is there something you'd like me to write about? Leave me a message on my Facebook page--and "like" the page for links to all my MD Mama blogs as well as my blogs on Thriving and Huffington Post. 

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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