Does a Celebrity Endorsement Mean It’s Healthy?

Promoting healthy eating habits is not that easy according to the U.S. Institute of Medicine and the Surgeon General. It is especially hard when popular celebrities endorse food and beverages that promote unhealthy choices. In fact, their endorsements have been linked to a significant increase in childhood obesity and product preference in kids and adults across the nation.

When 2 billion dollars is spent by food and beverage companies on youth-targeted, it’s going to make an impact. Public Health Experts wish there could be a campaign that would make healthy food and beverage products desirable.

Endorsements Of Food And Beverages Rely on Celebrities.

In the journal Pediatrics, a new study looked at the nutritional value of products endorsed by 65 entertainers between 2000 and 2014. They examined ads across all platforms target at youth; TV and radio commercials, magazine ads and YouTube videos.

If you are between the ages of 12 and 18, you will have been targeted through music industry celebrities many times a day. Because this age group spends 2-3 hours a day listening to music, it makes the influence of their favorite groups and individuals hold a powerful advantage. Brand identification and the desirability of a product is increased significantly.

“The food industry capitalizes on music celebrities’ popularity with youth by engaging in multi–million-dollar endorsement deals. In 2012, Beyoncé Knowles signed an endorsement deal with Pepsi worth an estimated $50 million, and Justin Timberlake received an estimated $6 million for his involvement in the McDonald’s “I’m lovin’ it” tune,” says Marie Bragg, lead author of the study.

She continues; “In addition, beverage industry publications credit Latino rapper Pitbull’s endorsement of Dr Pepper with 4.6 million advertising impressions (ie, any views or exposure to ads) and boosting Dr Pepper sales among Latinos by 1.7%, despite overall declines in carbonated soft drink sales. Although this instance is anecdotal, it is important to note the industry perceives it as an example of effective celebrity endorsements.”

Until recently, research had been focusing on children younger than 12 years of age. Impulse buying is high in the adolescent group. A big influence is peer pressure and having less self control.

Are The Food Products Endorsed By Celebrities that Unhealthy?

“This was a descriptive study. A list of music celebrities associated with the 2013 and 2014 Billboard Hot 100 Chart, which ranks songs according to sales and radio impressions, was compiled. Data on celebrity endorsements were gathered from official company Web sites, YouTube commercials, an advertising database, and media reports. Nutritional quality of foods was assessed according to the Nutrient Profile Index, whereas nonalcoholic beverages were evaluated based on calories from added sugar. Teen Choice Award nominations were used to measure the celebrities’ popularity among adolescents,” explains Bragg.

The research team from the department of population health at New York University School of Medicine headed by Brag discovered that 38 parent companies promoted 57 different food and beverage brands and engaged 65 celebrities. Their findings include:

81% of the celebrities had one or more Teen Choice Award Nominations.

71% of all non-alcoholic beverage endorsements were for sugar sweetened beverages.

80% of the endorsed foods were energy dense and nutrient poor.

Youtube Advertising is Rising in Influence

The study found YouTube had the most music celebrity endorsements for PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and Red Bull.


“There were over 312 million YouTube views for these kinds of commercials between 2000 and 2014, so it is pretty striking that there is a lot of exposure to these kinds of ads and that most of the products are really unhealthy,” says Bragg.

It’s not surprising the most popular celebrity endorsers on Youtube included Rhianna, Britney Spears and Beyonce.

Ads for vegetables, whole grains or fruits had no advertising and just few for water.

The solution is not only for teenagers to be aware of the effort to target them, but for them to respond with action. Brag believes if teens don’t like being manipulated and let companies know their displeasure, then it could cause these Food and Beverage companies to alter their advertising.

However, profit wins over public health most if the time. Even someone who supports cancer charities such as Taylor Swift has announced her partnership with Diet Coke. Some research suggests that Diet Coke may have negative health risks. Her video message released on YouTube encouraged her fans to “like” Diet Coke’s Facebook page. She also added her support to aspartame-laced Diet Coke on her Twitter page. Taylor Swift has 50 million followers on Twitter. Coca Cola knows her influence is strong with her fan base. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) asked Taylor “to step up and be a better role model”. They were hoping for the public good, she would stop endorsing the product. “Every time the Grammy-winning singer poses with a diet Coke, her leverage over what her own impressionable fans will drink is what makes her a threat to public health,” they said.

The jury may still be out on the long term dangers of aspartame, but the influence of celebrities in encouraging its consumption and the purchase of other unhealthy products is not.

To your good health!
Drew Avery


The Marketer's Mind Podcast