LeBron James, Peyton Manning food endorsements ‘sending mixed messages’ to kids

ABOVE: Study finds that high profile athletes who endorse junk food, are sending a wrong message. Carey Marsden reports.

TORONTO – When they aren’t on the ice, the football field or basketball court, they’re the face of fast food empires like McDonald’s, Pepsi and Burger King.

But the endorsements powerhouse athletes like LeBron James, Peyton Manning and Sidney Crosby take on are confusing kids and sending them mixed messages about health, a new Yale University study says.

Researchers at the school’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity selected 100 professional athletes from Businessweek’s 2010 Power 100 report for their study. Information about each athlete’s endorsements was categorized. Any food endorsements were assessed based on nutrition.

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Of the 512 brands linked to these athletes, food and beverage brands were the second largest category of endorsements, second only to sporting goods. Most of the athletes that were selling food was from the NBA, followed by the NFL and MLB.

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The researchers point out that 93 per cent of the drinks athletes propped up received all of their calories from added sugars. That’s 43 out of the 46 drinks.

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“The promotion of energy-dense, nutrient-poor products by some of the world’s most physically fit and well-known athletes is an ironic combination that sends mixed messages about diet and health,” lead author Marie Bragg told Yale News.

Take a look at how these five athletes ranked:

LeBron James

The Miami Heat superstar endorsed Sprite, Vitaminwater, McDonald’s and Powerade in 2010 – all companies that have taken some heat for pushing unhealthy fare on consumers.

Sidney Crosby

The Canadian hockey hero promotes Gatorade, Dempsters Bread and Tim Horton’s – according to reports, his endorsement portfolio was one of the healthier profiles compared to his counterparts.

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Serena Williams

The tennis champion has endorsed Oreo cookies, Gatorade, Nabisco 100 Calorie Pack Snacks and was part of the Got Milk? Campaign.

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Peyton Manning

This Denver Broncos player was featured in Gatorade, General Mills Wheaties Fuel Cereal, Nabisco products and Pepsi.

James, Williams and Manning had more food and beverage endorsements than any of the other athletes examined. And keep in mind, food and drink ads featuring professional athletes have far-reaching exposure – they appear across the U.S., on the Internet, the radio, in newspapers and magazines.

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Chris Paul

The LA Clippers point guard uses his fame to promote Vitaminwater, McDonald’s and Powerade.

Bragg and her co-authors say that professional athletes need to think twice about what they’re endorsing and use their celebrity to promote healthy messages to youth instead.

In total, the athletes backed 62 food products, from Big Macs to Oreos and Wheaties. Forty-nine of the 62 items were high in calories and provided little nutrition.

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The Center for Science and Public Interest offered its own response to the study.

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“It’s as if the dollars blind them to the fact that they are role models. Thanks to these endorsements, kids and adults are more likely to associate junk foods with fitness or athleticism,” the statement said.

The study’s full findings were published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Read the report here.

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