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Athletes' endorsements may be ruining kids health

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 9 2013 2:50 p.m. MDT

Peyton Manning (professional American football player) and LeBron James (professional basketball player) had the most endorsements for energy-dense, nutrient-poor products.

David Zalubowski, AP

Nothing says "healthy" like athletes at the top of their game. Unfortunately, a new study published Oct. 7 indicates the products some professional athletes are hawking to kids are less than healthy.

"One of the perks of being a professional athlete is that you get paid the big bucks to endorse products," says Mary Beth Quirk at Consumerist, "based on the premise that your fans will buy anything you put your name on."

"Professional athletes in general are endorsing a lot of unhealthy foods, which is concerning for a country that's struggling with obesity," study author Marie Bragg, a researcher at Yale told USA Today.

Bragg and her co-authors conducted the study using Bloomberg Businessweek listing of top 100 athletes in 2010. Those 100 athletes endorsed 513 brands — 24 percent of which were food and beverages.

According to the study in Pediatrics, "The nutritional quality of the foods featured in athlete-endorsement advertisements was assessed by using a Nutrient Profiling Index, whereas beverages were evaluated on the basis of the percentage of calories from added sugar."

"Seventy-nine percent of the 62 food products in athlete-endorsed advertisements were energy-dense and nutrient-poor, and 93.4 percent of the 46 advertised beverages had 100 percent of calories from added sugar," the study found. "Peyton Manning (professional American football player) and LeBron James (professional basketball player) had the most endorsements for energy-dense, nutrient-poor products."

The study says kids see these ads more than adults — raising questions about the targeting of adolescents with less healthy choices.

Michael Jacobson, executive director of the advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest, told USA Today he hopes this research will "inspire some reflection on the part of athletes and professional sports leagues — as well as all other celebrities for that matter."

As USA Today points out, those "nutrient poor" drinks include things like Sprite and Pepsi-Cola but also Powerade and Gatorade sports drinks.

As far as the sports drinks go, WebMD says, "Sports drinks like Gatorade, Powerade and All Sport can give you a needed energy boost during your activity. They are designed to rapidly replace fluids and to increase the sugar (glucose) circulating in your blood."

"The thing that works best is a drink," Barbara Lewin, RD, LD, a sports nutritionist who works with professional and Olympic athletes, tells Huffington Post in an article that explores cheaper alternatives to sports drinks. "It's a contradiction, but you really do need the calories to perform well. … The calories are what's enabling you to work out at your best. If you're not well-fueled, you're not going to work out as hard."

EMAIL: mdegroote@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @degroote

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