We can now add getting fat to the laundry list of bad outcomes that arise from listening to celebrity hucksters who are paid obscene amounts of money to promote products that might not be so good for us.
Can I really fault Beyoncé for all the sugar in Pepsi when she gets paid $50 million to tell me how awesome it is? When adults purchase products like waist trainers because Kim Kardashian instagrammed a photo of herself in one (don’t ask me why I chose this as an example), how much more will vulnerable will younger people be?
I am not sure which is scarier, so many adults in our society taking advice from celebrities or the immeasurable impact that celebrity endorsements have on children. The food and beverage industry alone spends $2 billion per year on youth-targeted advertising, and there are claims that it is a significant contributor to childhood obesity.
In a new paper(1), published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers associated unhealthy food advertisements with excessive consumption of, and increased requests for, products by children. Not surprisingly, previous data indicated people show a higher preference for products that are endorsed by celebrities, and consumers are more likely to positively associate with brands they can easily identify. Celebrities are the best way to achieve that recognition.
The authors chose to focus on teens — a subset of the population that has greater purchasing power than younger children, and are more responsive to messages from celebrities.
“Because of our nation’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,” reads a statement by the study’s lead author, Marie Bragg, assistant professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone. “Research has already shown that food advertising leads to overeating, and the food industry spends $1.8 billion per year marketing to youth alone.”
The data was gathered from the music industry and examined the top 100 songs from Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart from 2013-2014. The musician whose song(s) were identified was then linked to food or beverage endorsements using AdScope, an advertising database. The popularity of the celebrities among teens was cross-referenced with nominations from Teen Choice Awards to create what Dr. Bragg refers to as, a “comprehensive picture of endorsement profile.” For each food product, a nutrition score was assigned using a scoring system from the Nutrient Profile Model (NPM) where higher scores represented less healthy food.
Overall, 163 celebrities made a total of 590 endorsements, of which food and beverage constituted 18 percent of the total.
- 65 celebrities were associated with 57 different foods
- 82 percent had one or more Teen Choice nominations
- 71 percent promoted sugary-sweet, non-alcoholic beverages
- 81 percent of the food were energy-dense and nutrient poor
- Popular celebrities, such as Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Will.i.am, endorsed poor quality foods and beverages
What to do with this information?
According to Dr. Bragg, music celebrities could endorse healthier options, such as lower calorie beverages, “because that would harness the celebrity's’ popularity to promote healthy messages to young people. We know from research that adolescents care a lot about brand and really idolize celebrities, so this sort of popularity could be used to encourage healthy dietary habits.”
A positive example would be Jennifer Aniston and Smart Water, if it were actually not just fancy, expensive water.
One way to level the playing field, according to Dr. Bragg, is to use social media as a tool “so consumers could leverage their own voices … to demand companies change their advertising practices … the impact of parents’ voice can’t be underestimated.”
(1) Bragg MA, Miller AN, Elizee J, et al. Popular Music Celecbrity Endorsements in Food and Nonalcoholic Beverage Marketing. Pediatrics. 2016; 138(1):e20153977