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We have all seen current and past sports stars and athletes promoting everything solar heating to superannuation but when they are using their status to promote an unhealthy food product to children and their parents is it using their ‘power’ and influence for the wrong reasons.

A recent study by the Cancer Council of Victoria, involving 1500 parents of primary aged children, showed some unnerving results. The study asked parents to choice between an unhealthy food product and a comparable healthier food choice, based only on the packaging. While parents were offered the nutritional information panel to read, only 44% did so. The parents that did not read the panel in the study were twice as likely to choose an unhealthy product featuring a well-known athlete. They were also twice as likely to choose the product if the packaging contained a health claim such as ‘Added Fibre’.
In the words of Obesity Policy Coalition senior policy advisor, Jane Martin, ‘Endorsement by a sports star and selective nutrient claims are powerful promotional devices that can potentially mislead parents about the nutritional benefits of products’.

Even the sports stars’ colleagues aren’t happy about the involvement of some in the promotion of unhealthy food choices. Research out of the University of Sydney, in conjunction with the national and state institutes of sport, found that only 3.7% felt that it was acceptable for elite athletes to endorse or promote junk food or alcohol. Conducted amongst 682 swimmers, athletes, basketball players and rugby league players, the study found that 4 out of 5 athletes thought that sport should not promote junk food and alcohol and only 1 in 20 thought that athletes should be involved in such promotion.
The study concludes that ‘Elite and sub-elite Australian athletes perceive themselves as having a role in promoting healthy lifestyles to the general public and do not favour junk food or alcohol advertising or involvement of athletes in product promotion. The majority perceived they should be role models for the general community to be active (92%) and have a role in obesity prevention (63.8%).’

So why do they do it? While some may say it is all about the money, with the likes of Shane Warne pocketing a reported $500,000 for his promotion of McDonalds, but that can’t be the full story. Many athletes make just as much money or more but aligning themselves with products and brands that are not unhealthy. It is very perplexing as to why they do it then.

These athletes are role models to our children and need to consider the long term health impacts of their promotions. And perhaps parents too should heed this warning – don’t be swayed by celebrity endorsement of any kind or ‘health’ claims in big lettering across the front of the packaging. Read the nutritional information panel and make in informed and healthy food choice for your children. In years to come they will thank you for it.
Sport Stars and food endorsements

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