New study links celebrity endorsements and obesity
Taylor Swift at the Pepsi Center (Getty Images)
Pop quiz: What does Korean pop sensation PSY do better than most of his famous colleagues? You give up? Well he is one of the only celeb endorsers who’s promoting a vaguely healthy product—pistachios.
Taylor Swift shills for Diet Coke. Macklemore is a Cracker Jack man. And Snoop Dogg would like you to eat more Hot Pockets. A new study, reviewing 590 endorsements by 163 of our most famous contemporary musicians, was just released in Pediatrics. The results? Mostly junk.
Junk food, that is. A whopping 81 percent of the endorsed food was considered grossly unhealthy, aka “energy-dense, nutrient-poor products.” And seventy-one percent of beverages in the study were sugar-sweetened.
The study was conducted at NYU, looking specifically at musicians from Billboard’s Top 100 in 2013 and 2014. Lead researcher Marie Bragg says that while all manner of product endorsements were reviewed (eg, Bruno Mars and e-cigarettes), her team was most interested in food and beverages.
“Anecdotally we had noticed this phenomenon where, say, Katy Perry is selling Pepsi,” says Bragg. “We have this global obesity problem, but not many connections have been made with the celebrities who tell us what to consume.”
Bragg’s team conducted a parallel study back in 2013, except with athletes instead of musicians. The results were similarly dramatic, besides a greater preponderance of sweetened sports beverage endorsements. The landscape is so bad, in fact, that Bragg takes solace in Stephen Curry’s recent endorsement deal—with Brita water filters. “At least it’s water,” she concedes.
The goal of Bragg’s research was not to determine if there’s a connection between celebrity endorsements and consumption patterns; those links are already established. For instance, a 2011 Australian study looked at whether 11-year-olds’ cereal-eating habits were affected by athlete endorsements. The conclusion? Kids will usually eat what their idols tell them to.
PSY’s pistachio endorsement stood out as the only endorsement for any kind of fruit, vegetable or other whole or natural food. Ariana Grande backed a bottled water brand, while Chris Brown supported Got Milk?—before the ad got pulled (Beyonce hadn’t inked her watermelon water deal when the study was conducted). Bragg hopes her research could put some pressure on celebs to consider the impact of their endorsements (one wonders if Taylor Swift was moved by the medical community’s harsh disapproval).
“Obviously we don’t expect celebrities to only endorse healthy foods, or for people to only consume them,” she says. “But more of a balance would be a big win for public health.”
Perhaps Nick Jonas has a few things to teach his contemporaries—he is the only musician to join Michelle Obama in her celebrity-backed push to eat more vegetables. Named FNV, the campaign aimed to rival big food companies in their advertising tactics.
“You probably never heard about it, though,” Bragg glumly notes. “It barely had any funding.”