76% of sports sponsorships promote junk food, says report

76% of sports sponsorships promote junk food, says report / Pepsi NFL Ad Screenshot

Sports sponsorships are commonly used to market unhealthy food and non-alcoholic beverages, exposing millions of consumers to their marketing messages, according to a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics.

The report identified 273 advertisements that featured food and/or non-alcoholic beverage products 328 times and product logos 83 times (some advertisements showed multiple products). 76% of foods had unhealthy nutrition scores, and 52.4% of non-alcoholic beverages were sugar-sweetened. Meanwhile, YouTube sponsorship advertisements totaled 195.6 million views.

The National Football League (NFL) had the most food and/or non-alcoholic beverage sponsors, followed by the National Hockey League (NHL) and Little League. The different brands associated with these leagues include PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Wendy's to name a few.

The PGA had the worst overall NPI (nutrient profile index) average because the only product they featured in a food sponsor advertisement was a high-sugar Gatorade Protein Bar.

The researchers expressed their concern stating: "The promotion of unhealthy foods and beverages during sports is especially concerning because study authors have shown that up to 76% of children surveyed can recall at least one food company that sponsors a sports organization. In addition, the authors of one study conducted in Australia estimated that 80% of children play organized sports, and up to 75% of their youth sports clubs maintain food sponsorships."

The American Beverage Association, which represents the beverage industry, responded to the study in a written statement to CNN: "As the authors of this study admit, the target audience for professional sports are not children but adults. Nonetheless, America's beverage companies have taken actions to ensure parents have the support they want, including voluntarily implementing international advertising guidelines to not market to children under the age of 12, voluntarily pulling full-calorie beverages from K-12 schools and offering parents fact-based information and the wide variety of beverage options with and without sugar they need to make the right choices for themselves and their families."

This descriptive study used Nielsen audience data to select 10 sports organizations with the most 2–17 year old viewers of 2015 televised events.

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