Studies have long confirmed that celebrity endorsements are effective in influencing consumers. New York University researcher Marie Bragg, interested in the effects of advertising on teenagers, conducted a study based on this premise and found a disturbing result: Celebrities, such as Katy Perry, overwhelmingly endorse junk foods over healthy foods.
In an issue of the journal Pediatrics published on Monday, Bragg released her analysis of celebrity endorsements from 2000 to 2014, reporting that 65 popular celebrities were associated with 57 different foods and beverages.
Of the 57 different food endorsements, over 80 percent were “energy dense and nutrient poor,” according to the study, and 79 percent of endorsed beverages were sugary drinks.
The trend of using celebrities such as Katy Perry for advertisements may particularly affect teenagers, according to Bragg, because they are most susceptible to celebrity endorsements. Although in recent years multiple corporations and countries have committed to protecting children aged 12 or younger from potentially harmful advertisements, Bragg wants that protection extended to teenagers as well.
“We know [teenagers] are a prime target given their spending power,” she said to reporters on Monday. “Research has already shown that food advertising leads to overeating, and the food industry spends US$1.8 billion per year marketing to youth alone… We hope that this study will start a discussion about shifting this marketing away from unhealthy products.”
Bragg’s study used the nutrient profile model used for child-targeted food marketing in the UK, assigning a score to celebrities based on the average healthiness of the products they promoted on a scale of 1-100, with 100 being a perfect score.
Country singer Carrie Underwood came in at the bottom of the list, with a score of 27.88. Underwood’s endorsements included Vitamin Water, which has as much sugar per serving as many colas, and Hershey’s chocolate.
The healthiest celebrity on the list was Shakira, who endorsed Pepsi Regular and Activia for a score of 71.46. She was closely followed by Pitbull. The Cuban rapper received a score of 70 for endorsing Dr. Pepper, Pepsi Regular, and Sheets Energy Strips.
Endorsements, from Perry, Underwood, and others, are unlikely to disappear anytime soon. Companies are willing to sign multi-million dollar contracts with celebrities to get their endorsements, indicating that they recognize the impact celebrities can have on customers.
Justin Timberlake currently has a $6 million contract with McDonald’s. Beyoncé signed a $50 million contract with Pepsi in 2012.
Baauer, the artist behind the hit “Harlem Shake,” endorses more food products than any other celebrity on the list. A&W restaurants, Dr. Pepper, Hot Pockets, Red Bull, and Pepsi Regular are all associated with the musician.
“When Dr. Pepper asked Pitbull to endorse, they got 4.6 million advertising impressions, and sales went up 1.7 percent [among Latinos], despite declining sales in the overall soft drink category,” Bragg said to NPR.
PepsiCo was most prominent on the list. The company boasted over two dozen endorsements among the list of 65 celebrities, which includes Katy Perry.
Only one endorsement by one celebrity was deemed healthy: South Korean pop singer Psy, who rose to fame in the United States following his viral hit “Gangnam Style,” endorsed pistachios.
Alysa Miller, the co-author of the study and a public health research coordinator at NYU, suggested working with the system rather than attempting to ban teenage-marketed advertising.
“The popularity of music celebrities among adolescents makes them uniquely poised to serve as positive role models,” she said. “Celebrities should be aware that their endorsements could exacerbate society’s struggle with obesity, and they should endorse healthy products instead.”
“These results can inform policies designed to address the use of celebrities in food marketing,” the study asserted.
The results of the study are conservative in nature. Bragg acknowledged that her study may not have located every endorsement deal made, and not all advertisements were available for view online, which means the results could be understated.
[Photo By Andreas Rentz/Getty Images]