junk food sports advertisements

American Sports Leagues Promote Unhealthy Food to Kids, Study Suggests

Could watching sports be making kids less healthy?
junk food sports advertisements

While watching other people stay active, kids might be tempted to eat junk food snacks.

According to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics, America’s biggest sports leagues and junk food are more connected than you might think. Children watching their favorite sports events on television are exposed to a surprising amount of advertisements for unhealthy food, potentially influencing them to make unhealthy snack and beverage choices.

Researchers used Nielsen audience data, which provides marketers with television consumer data, from 2015 to estimate the 10 sports organizations with the most viewers aged 2 to 17. They then identified these organizations’ advertisement sponsorships with food and non-alcoholic beverage companies. Assessing advertisements on TV, YouTube, and the organizations’ websites, the researchers separated the ads into categories.

The study’s results found that of all the food brand sponsorships used to promote a sports organization, 76 percent lauded unhealthy options. Of the beverages shown in sports sponsorship ads, 52.4 percent were high in sugar, including sodas and fruit juices.

The researchers expressed concern at the implications of these advertisements for the health of America’s youngest sports fans.

“Exposure to food advertisements can influence children’s food preferences,” the study results claim, “and can lead to increased short-term food consumption.”

The report also calls out Pepsi Co., Coca-Cola, and McDonald’s by name.

“Pepsi Co. agreed to pay $90 million per year during their 10-year sponsorship renewal contact with the National Football League,” they noted. “Coca-Cola has sponsored every Olympic Games since 1928.”

Even though McDonald's has historically advertised during sporting events, it's worked in recent years to serve more nutritious food. A spokesperson from McDonald’s told The Daily Meal, “Since 2012, McDonald’s USA has served more than 2.8 billion servings of fruit and low-fat dairy products in kids’ meals, and we’re proud of how we’re continuing to raise the bar on the food we serve.”

McDonald’s has launched several campaigns recently to improve the healthfulness of their meal options marketed towards children, including their latest initiative to revamp Happy Meal menus.

The study also noted the fast food chain’s “decision to end their Olympic sponsorship after mounting criticism from public health advocates,” suggesting that other fast food, junk food, and beverage corporations should follow suit.

Along with these failed menu items, Olympics-related advertisements are something you might never see from McDonald’s again.