Food and beverage ads during sports promote childhood obesity, study finds

While encouraging kids to take up an interest in sports might seem like a good way to promote a healthy lifestyle, it turns out watching them can actually have the opposite effect.

According to a new study, the majority of food and drinks marketed during sports broadcasts are unhealthy, which could be contributing to America’s obesity epidemic among youth.

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Social scientists from NYU School of Medicine analyzed 10 sports organizations with the most viewers between 2 and 17 years old. Of 173 instances in which food products and brand logos were shown, 132 (76.3 percent) promoted items that were “energy-dense, nutrient-poor.”

To determine this, the food and drinks were given a score based on the Nutrient Profile Model, a 100-point scale that deems foods lower than 64 unhealthy. The researchers discovered that foods promoted through sports sponsorships scored very low on the scale, with an average score of 38-39 for unhealthy foods like potato chips and sugary cereals, according to a press release.

In addition to unhealthy snacks, full-calorie sodas appeared the most frequently of non-alcoholic beverages, followed by diet sodas and sports drinks.

These findings are concerning because, according to the study, food marketing plays a large role in contributing to poor diet among youth, which in turn is a primary cause of obesity. “Exposure to food advertisements can influence children’s food preferences and purchase requests and can lead to increased short-term food consumption,” the study reports.

The marketing children see in the broadcasts sticks with them, too. Seventy-six percent of the kids surveyed were able to recall at least one of the companies sponsoring a sports organization.

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"The U.S. is in the throes of a child and adolescent obesity epidemic, and these findings suggest that sports organizations and many of their sponsors are contributing, directly and indirectly, to it," Marie Bragg, PhD, assistant professor of Population Health at NYU School of Medicine and the study's lead investigator, said in the press release.

"Sports organizations need to develop more health-conscious marketing strategies that are aligned with recommendations from national medical associations."