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Does your kid want to follow in the footsteps of pro athletes? A new study shows they promote lots of junk foods and drinks. Make sure your child doesn't show his love for his sports hero by consuming these unhealthy products.

What's on the menu for a star athlete? Healthy meals carefully planned by nutritionists, one would think — usually correctly. Popular sports players are role models for many, kids and adults alike, and they are actually in a unique position to promote that thing we all know we should be consuming: healthy food. 

Athletes could appear in healthy-food ads, write books in which they share the recipes and secrets to a healthy, active life, and mention the importance of a healthy life that includes a balanced diet and plenty of exercise in interviews. 

The fact is, some top athletes — including Peyton Manning, Serena Williams and LeBron James — are doing the exact opposite and decide to promote junk foods and sugar-filled drinks. What kind of an impact does that have on the kids who look up to these folks?

What The Study Shows

A new study published in the journal Pediatrics shows that kids between the ages of 12 and 17 were most likely to watch athlete-endorsed junk food commercials on television. The study team pointed out that professional athletes are engaged in a lot of advertising for unhealthy food and drinks, something that is worrying in a society where obesity has become a huge problem. 

The researchers looked at the top 100 professional athletes, as determined by Bloomberg Businessweek's 2010 Power 100 rankings and looked at endorsements using the database AdScope. They found that 513 brands were endorsed by these 100 sports pros, and 28 percent of those fell into the food and drinks category. 

The athletes collectively endorsed 62 food and drink brands and a whopping 78 percent of those were low in nutrients but high in calories — exactly, in other words, the type of food and drink top athletes themselves probably don't consume too often. 

Top athletes endorsed 39 different sports beverages and 21 soft drinks. Out of those, 93 percent got a full 100 percent of calories from added sugars. 

The study only focused on fast-food endorsements in the year 2010 and did not look at what happened either before or after that year. The lead author described it as an "exploratory study of what the landscape looks like". The results for that one year alone were quite shocking, I dare say. 

What brands were endorsed? In case you haven't seen these ads yourself, they include Sprite, Mcdonalds, Powerade, Gatorade, Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola, Oreo cookies, Nabisco 100 Calorie Pack, Papa John’s pizza and Got Milk

The athletes themselves didn't want to comment on this too much, but they certainly profit from these endorsements — millions of dollars a year, actually. I personally don't have a problem with top athletes endorsing brands like Samsung Galaxy (which LeBron James also does), but why foods that lead people to live a lifestyle that's basically a polar opposite of their own healthy, active one? 

The goal of the study is clear. Marie Bragg, the lead author of the study, who is a doctoral student in clinical psychology at Yale University, said: "Our ultimate hope would be that athletes reject the unhealthy endorsements or, at the very least, promote healthy foods. These athletes have an opportunity to work with parents. Instead, they’re promoting really unhealthy foods."

She and the other authors called the athlete's love of fast-food endorsement an "ironic combination that sends mixed messages about diet and health". 

Don't Let Top Athletes Tempt You And Your Kids To Consume Unhealthy Foods And Drinks

This study wasn't the first to examine the relationships between fast food and top athletes. Two years back, an Australian study team found that some parents start to believe these foods aren't "that bad", and are more nutritious than they actually are

There is no question that star athlete endorsements lead to an increase in the sales of these junk food brands, and that they also play a role in creating brand loyalty among the athletes' fans.

If that was not the case, the brands we mentioned would not be so eager to get these sports players on board. I doubt that top athletes will stop endorsing unhealthy foods any time soon. Millions of dollars stop them from doing so. LeBron James of the NBA champion Miami Heat, for instance, earns a shocking $42 million a year by promoting brands like McDonalds and Coca Cola. 

You know what's in it for your kids' sports role models, but what is in it for you and your family? Nothing, of course. You can instill a love of sports in your kids without making them love fast food as well.

It's inevitable that you'll see a sea of brands during matches and on the players' outfits, but you can switch channels for the duration of the commercials. Talking to your kids about the types of foods these athletes themselves consume to stay in top condition is another important step to take.

Kids should understand that these athletes themselves certainly don't thrive on hamburgers, cookies and sugar-filled drinks.

A fast-food based diet doesn't cause one to become a top athlete — it leads to obesity and nutritional deficiencies. Keep on sending that message to your kids, and tell them you can spend your money on sports memberships instead of fast food if they want to follow in their hero's footsteps. 

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