Many music celebrities popular with teens endorse foods and drinks that are high on calories and low on nutrients, a U.S. study suggests.
Of the 65 music celebrities promoting beverages and snacks, 53 had at least one Teen Choice award nomination, indicating popularity among young people.
More than two-thirds of the nonalcoholic drink promotions featured sodas and sugary drinks, the study found. More than four-fifths of the endorsed snacks were heavy on calories and light on nutrients.
“This is concerning given one-third of teens are overweight or obese,” said lead study author Marie Bragg, a public health researcher at New York University School of Medicine.
Compared to adults, adolescents may also have a harder time resisting the urge to buy products they see celebrities endorse, Bragg said by email.
“Teens are in a unique developmental life stage where they rely a lot on associating themselves with brands and celebrities to help them define who they are, so they may respond more positively to celebrity endorsements than adults,” Bragg added.
Bragg and colleagues analyzed 590 product endorsements by 163 celebrities who appeared on the 2013 and 2014 Billboard Hot 100 Chart, which ranks songs according to sales and radio play.
Consumer goods like makeup and fragrances made up the biggest share of endorsements – 26 percent – followed by food and drinks at 18 percent.
They assessed snacks using a nutritional index that scores food from 1 to 100, with higher scores indicating the healthiest options. Researchers added points for options that children need like fruits, vegetables, nuts, fiber and protein. They subtracted points for options that should be limited, like calories, saturated fat, salt and sugar.
Some of the less healthy choices endorsed by teen celebrities included Doritos, Cracker Jack, Pop-Tarts, Honey Nut Cheerios and Pop Chips – all of which were among products researchers concluded were “energy dense and nutrient poor.”
Only six food products endorsed by celebrities in the study met researchers’ definition of healthy choices – Big Red gum, 5 Gum, Taco Bell, Subway, Activia, and Sheets Energy Strips.
Out of 69 beverages promoted by the celebrities, 49 were for sodas and other drinks sweetened with sugar, five were for diet sodas, and there was one promotion apiece for water and milk.
Full-calorie soft drinks were the most commonly endorsed beverages in the study, and the majority of these, 23, were made by PepsiCo, followed by eight for Coca-Cola Company and four from Dr. Pepper Snapple.
The researchers say they might not have had data on every celebrity endorsement. They also lacked data on teen viewership, which could mean teens’ exposure to some ads was underestimated.
In addition, it’s hard to say exactly how well the Teen Choice Awards represent selections made by adolescents’ votes or from the show’s corporate producers, the authors also point out.
More research is also needed to examine how much celebrity endorsements influence what children and teens choose to eat or drink, the authors said.
To help limit the potential for celebrity endorsements to encourage unhealthy choices, parents should have open discussions about marketing with children from a young age, said Dr. Terrill Bravender, a pediatrics researcher at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott’s Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor.
“They can help their children become savvy media consumers and identify when they are being marketed to, and help them deconstruct the messages that they are receiving,” Bravender, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.
Even though many people think they’re not susceptible to advertising, companies wouldn’t keep spending money on these promotions if they didn’t work, Bravender said.
“The best approach is for all of us to be vigilant as to when we are being targeted, enjoy the sponsored halftime show, and examine our own motivations when we want a Pepsi,” Bravender added.