Twenty-five brands or products with the worst Nutrient Profile Index (NPI) scores, compared with sports sponsorships. Lower scores (<64) represent less healthy foods. Scores are based on products shown in sponsorship commercials. Graphic: Bragg, et al., 2018 / Pediatrics

By Julia Belluz
28 March 2018

(Vox) – There’s a reason sports heroes like Michael Jordan have been appearing on cereal boxes for decades. Food and beverage companies have learned that spending billions of dollars on marketing targeted at kids as young as 2 can sway the food choices they make for a lifetime. Yet we have become numb to this advertising because it’s all around us — and it’s a major and often ignored driver of the obesity epidemic.

New research in the journal Pediatrics reveals the precise role America’s beloved sports leagues play in this marketing blitz. The first study to quantify food marketing to children through professional sports organizations in the US, it casts these leagues in a new light: as key peddlers of junk food to children.

The paper, led by researchers at New York University, focused on sports sponsorships — or the money food and non-alcoholic beverage companies pay teams to use their logos, brands, and products in sports venues and advertisements. The researchers found that major sports leagues like the NFL and NBA have millions of young viewers (about 412 million under the age of 17 per year, to be exact). And that food and non-alcoholic beverage companies — including McDonald’s, PepsiCo, Mars, Kraft Heinz, and Kellogg — were the second-largest category of sponsors to these leagues, after only the auto industry.

The food sponsorships are ubiquitous — appearing in the names of playing fields and the socks players wear on those fields (see photos above and below). What’s more, the vast majority of the snacks and drinks featured through these sponsorships is overwhelmingly unhealthy.

The takeaway is this: The millions of kids who follow sports leagues are being saturated with messages about junk food, from Doritos to Skittles to soda. “[Children] see these pro athletes at the pinnacle of physical fitness — then cut to a commercial and see sponsorship for chips and sugary drinks,” said Marie Bragg, assistant professor of population health at NYU School of Medicine and the study’s lead author, in a statement. “At [best], it’s an ironic paradox. At worst, it could lead kids to think these products are healthier than they are.” [more]

We’ve become numb to one of the biggest drivers of obesity

ABSTRACT: Food and nonalcoholic beverage companies spend millions of dollars on professional sports sponsorships, yet this form of marketing is understudied. These sponsorships are valuable marketing tools but prompt concerns when unhealthy products are associated with popular sports organizations, especially those viewed by youth.

METHODS: This descriptive study used Nielsen audience data to select 10 sports organizations with the most 2–17 year old viewers of 2015 televised events. Sponsors of these organizations were identified and assigned to product categories. We identified advertisements promoting food and/or nonalcoholic beverage sponsorships on television, YouTube, and sports organization Web sites from 2006 to 2016, and the number of YouTube advertisement views. The nutritional quality of advertised products was assessed.

RESULTS: Youth watched telecasts associated with these sports organizations over 412 million times. These organizations had 44 food and/or nonalcoholic beverage sponsors (18.8% of sponsors), second to automotive sponsors (n = 46). The National Football League had the most food and/or nonalcoholic beverage sponsors (n = 10), followed by the National Hockey League (n = 7) and Little League (n = 7). We identified 273 advertisements that featured food and/or nonalcoholic beverage products 328 times and product logos 83 times (some advertisements showed multiple products). Seventy-six percent (n = 132) of foods had unhealthy nutrition scores, and 52.4% (n = 111) of nonalcoholic beverages were sugar-sweetened. YouTube sponsorship advertisements totaled 195.6 million views.

CONCLUSIONS: Sports sponsorships are commonly used to market unhealthy food and nonalcoholic beverages, exposing millions of consumers to these advertisements.

Sports Sponsorships of Food and Nonalcoholic Beverages


  1. Anonymous said...

    What is the NFL? PGA? NASCAR? NBA?

    Oh, right. Televised "sports" where gladiator games are portrayed as entertainment.

    Hmmm. Not much different then what we find throughout history - always some kind of blood sport to entertain and distract the masses from thinking or taking an interest in current affairs.

    Only slightly different today where the real "blood" occurs behind the scenes as they negotiate with their managers and owners who gets paid the most for doing something totally useless for humanity.

    Kill your t.v., just dump it. Watching "sports" is like putting your brain in park.  

  2. Anonymous said...

    I guess I should have mentioned something relevant to the article (sorry). Both food and drink have become associated by advertising false memes to healthy active "sport" lifestyles. But it is totally false.

    This has been entirely fabricated by design to convince viewers that they too can become like their favorite "heroes" by ingesting the same food and drink their heroes allegedly consume. Which they don't, and they're not heroes either, but that's part of the schtick.

    ALL of the foods listed in the graph are toxic to the human body. Sports "heroes" however, are willing to accept millions in dollars prostituting themselves to endorse a food or drink product on behalf of the manufacturers and advertisers. This makes them whores, but we're not supposed to call them that.

    Everybody does this - but nobody does this worse then sports "heroes", who are caught up in a marketing machine that has made commodity of their muscle mass and fiber twitch speeds. It's pathetic. But considered normal and accepted practice.

    Manufacturers on their part, aren't interested in promoting or even selling real food, so instead, they conjure up some abominations with sweet-tasting ingredients to provide an endorphin pulse for the connedsumers who eat and drink this trash. The goal is to sell as much of this garbage as possible and therefore, the required endorsement contracts.

    But... if the hero falls from grace, say like Lance Armstrong did, contracts are cancelled and the money stops flowing in, and new heroes are found and promoted to godlike status.

    It's a vicious, pathetic cycle of deception, deceit, false advertising and phony worship. While poisoning millions of humans and enriching the advertisers and manufacturers behind this.  


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