Pop Stars Advertise Junk Food, People Unhappy Over Marketing

Pop Stars Advertise Junk FoodDepending on your point of view, the latest study to make the news rounds is either an indictment of pop stars that make them culpable in the childhood obesity crisis, or an obvious confirmation that food and beverages with celebrity endorsements tend to sell better.

Much of the coverage on other sites tend to focus on alleged contributions to childhood obesity and hypothetical hand-wringing about what might happen if Beyonce (and the like) started hawking kale instead of Coke. Fortunately, I don’t have to deal with that particular quagmire since the study can be looked at in its own independent context.

Celebrity Advertising Study: Summary

  • The pop stars examined during the study were determined by the 2013 and 2014 “Hot 100” song charts from Billboard Magazine
  • Popularity among adolescents was verified through YouTube views and the Teen Choice Awards
  • In total, 163 different celebrities made up the sample, and the researchers then looked for any product endorsements they gave between 2000 and 2014
  • 590 endorsements were found, with food and beverages making up the second largest endorsement category at 18%
  • The nutrition value of the 26 endorsed foods was calculated using the Nutrient Profile Model (NPM), which is a common food marketing research tool. It found 21 (81%) of the endorsed foods to be “nutrient poor”
  • Only one endorsement was for a natural food that had been deemed healthy— pistachios
  • The health value of the 69 endorsed beverages was assessed by looking at calories from added sugar. Forty-nine of the beverages (71%) were sugar-sweetened. Water-related endorsements were a distinct minority with only three appearances
  • The conclusion drawn is that celebrities who are popular with adolescents endorse primarily energy-dense, nutrient-poor products

What This Means

The study itself is fairly straightforward even if the debate it is part of is more complicated. In short, the majority (73%) of food and beverages endorsed by the pop stars behind 2013-2014’s Hot 100 songs are either high-calorie, nutrient-poor (or both). This is an objective fact but it is also the subject of a lot of less-than-objective interpretation which is not going to be waded in to here.

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There is, however, one oddity that needs to be pointed out. The study notes that 18% of the 590 endorsements were for food and beverages, which works out to 106. However, the food and beverages analyzed for nutrition only add up to 95. What this might mean would depend on what the missing 11 items are, which isn’t immediately apparent. It is possible that they were excluded for legitimate reasons (like if they were for alcohol, which would be irrelevant for an adolescent-focused study) but without more information this can’t be said for certain. For the record, even if all 11 were included and deemed healthy, unhealthy endorsements would still be the majority at 66%.

Bottom Line

  • A majority of food and beverage endorsements from 2013-2014’s Hot 100 song stars are for sugar-sweetened beverages or nutrient poor food and these stars are also popular among adolescents
  • What this means in the context of the childhood obesity debate or how representative the results are of overall celebrity involvement in food and beverage advertising is beyond the scope of the study

Source for Today’s Article:
Bragg, M., et. al., “Popular Music Celebrity Endorsements in Food and Nonalcoholic Beverage Marketing,” Pediatrics, 2016; 10.1542/peds.2015-3977.