Wouldn't It Be Great if Athletes Were Health Heroes?

Oct 10, 2013, 10:13 AM, Posted by

A man bouncing a basketball.

When I see top athletes hawking junk foods and sugary beverages, it makes me want to blow a whistle and call a foul. When men and women who are at the peak of their athletic prowess push products that do nothing to contribute to peak performance, our nation’s kids are getting the wrong messages.

A new study by the Rudd Center on Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University shows that the vast majority of foods and beverages touted by top athletes are unhealthy products, like sports drinks, soft drinks, and fast food. It also reveals that adolescents ages 12 to 17 see the most TV ads for foods endorsed by athletes. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Rudd Foundation funded the study, which appears in the November edition of Pediatrics.

So what effect might this have on kids?

If marketing by top athletes didn’t drive sales, companies wouldn’t offer them lucrative endorsement deals. And we know marketing influences what kids want and what they pester their parents to buy.

Advantage: Kids

What if we could turn this around? Wouldn’t it be great if the athletes our kids idolize the most put their marketing muscle behind healthy products? Could athletes become health heroes?

While I may be an idealist, I’m not unrealistic. I know apple growers can’t offer multimillion dollar deals to the likes of LeBron James, Peyton Manning and Serena Williams. And I know marketing to kids isn’t likely to disappear. Food and beverage companies spend too much money on lobbying to allow that to happen.

But many of the same companies that shell out big bucks for endorsements have plenty of products that fall into the good-for-you and better-for-you categories. Research shows that companies that have a higher percentage of their sales from such products perform better on a range of financial metrics. So they could just as easily pay athletes to promote their healthiest products.

That could help to create a culture of health in which our kids are the big winners.