76% of sports sponsorships tied to junk food, study says

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 3/26/2018, 7:59 a.m.
Cheering on your favorite sports team and snacking on junk food often go hand in hand in the United States, ...

By Jacqueline Howard, CNN

(CNN) -- Cheering on your favorite sports team and snacking on junk food often go hand in hand in the United States, but a new study sheds light on just how intertwined sports and unhealthy foods really are.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday, reveals that 76% of food products shown in ads promoting a sports organization sponsorship are unhealthy and that 52.4% of beverages shown in sports sponsorship ads are sugar-sweetened.

Sponsorship was measured by instances in which the sports organization logo or name was shown with an official company name, product or logo in a commercial, banner ad, YouTube video or similar type of promotion.

The study focused on the top 10 sports organizations most frequently watched by children 2 to 17 years old, based on data from Nielsen ratings.

The researchers are concerned that such sponsorships could have a negative impact on children's food choices and diet, said Marie Bragg, first author of the study and assistant professor in the Department of Population Health at the NYU School of Medicine in New York.

Yet "there's a unique dynamic between the sports organizations and the food companies, and it's hard to know who should take more responsibility for the problem or if both organizations -- both sports organizations and food companies -- should take equal responsibility," she said. "I'm not totally sure what the answer is."

The Hershey Co. and PepsiCo were among the companies mentioned by name in the study. Hershey Co. said in a statement that it believes in "supporting organizations that enable athletes to showcase their talents and serve as role models."

"Sports are viewed together by multiple generations who understand that our products are a treat. In fact, candy makes up a very small amount of the average American's diet (about 2-3% of total caloric intake)," it said in response to the study. "We have a broad portfolio of brands that offer a variety of choices for consumers."

The company added that it participates in the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, a voluntary program in which it has committed to not advertise its products to children under age 12.

In an emailed statement, PepsiCo said the company "has made strong global commitments on responsible advertising to children, and we have signed on to industry-led voluntary initiatives through several global, regional and national pledge programs. In the U.S., this includes the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, which is administered by the Better Business Bureau."

A 'striking' finding

The researchers used 2015 data from Nielsen's television ratings to identify the 10 sports organizations with the most youth viewers. Then, they compiled a list of each organization's sponsors using publicly available information.

A research assistant, who was unaware of the purpose of the study, sorted all of the organizations' sponsors into categories, identifying which were food and beverage brands.

When it came to defining sponsorship, "it really has to be the partnership of either the logos or names showing up in the same commercial," Bragg said.