Whether they accept the responsibility or not, professional athletes are expected to serve as role models to an impressionable generation of young people. They’re asked to abstain from hiring underage prostitutes, refrain from dog-fighting, and avoid getting a DUI. The pressure must be tremendous! All kidding aside, it seems reasonable to expect sports figures to model a healthy lifestyle. And when they don’t, the public, with righteous indignation, cries foul play.
Recently, several professional athletes came under fire for endorsing unhealthy foods. The backlash came in response to a study published in the journal Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Researchers found that nearly 80 percent of foods endorsed by top athletes were unhealthy. When we say unhealthy, we’re talking fast food, cookies, and soda. In fact, over 90 percent of the beverages endorsed by athletes received all of their calories from added sugar. Athletes Peyton Manning, Serena Williams, and LeBron James scored the worst in the study, endorsing Pepsi-Cola, McDonald’s, and Oreo cookies, respectively.
You would think that adults would see the inherent lack of nutritional value in these foods; however, they were more likely to perceive the products as healthy when they were endorsed by a professional athlete, according to a similar study. That is particularly concerning with “gateway” junk foods such as Nabisco 100 Calorie Pack Snacks, endorsed by Serena Williams, and Glaceau Vitaminwater, endorsed by LeBron James. Both products are ostensibly healthy and are even seen as acceptable parts of a diet for weight loss, despite the fact that the majority of their calories come from added sugar.
Perhaps even more unsettling, children ages 12 to 17 were the most likely to view the advertisements in which the athletes appeared, according to the study. In light of rising childhood obesity rates, the marketing of unhealthy foods to children by professional athletes and major food companies is a cruel joke. However, whether or not the public outcry rises to the tenor that it does when a certain golf hero’s multiple mistresses step forward remains to be seen.