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Published on July 04, 2016

Teens should tune out celeb pitches for junk foodTeens should tune out celeb pitches for junk food

When Katy Perry, Beyoncé or Justin Timberlake invite them to get on the dance floor, teens should go for it. But they should think twice when celebrities give a food recommendation.

A recent study by New York University researchers found that almost every food or drink endorsed in an ad by a music celebrity is unhealthy. That’s something for parents to be concerned about since the music performed by junk food spokespeople like One Direction, Pitbull and Macklemore is hugely popular with tweens and teens.

“Teens are seeing a lot of ads for these types of products that are associated with things like obesity and childhood diabetes,” says study author Marie Bragg, an assistant professor in the department of population health at NYU in a video press release about her research. “We already know that other studies have shown that exposure to food ads can lead young people to overeat in the short-term.”

Bragg’s study, published in the medical journal Pediatrics, tracked the endorsements of 163 music stars. The study concluded that “music celebrities who are popular among adolescents endorse energy-dense, nutrient-poor products.” Of the endorsements for food and beverage products, most were for soda and other sugary drinks, fast food and sweets. None of the ads were for fruits, vegetables or whole grains.

That means that in order to promote healthy food choices, it’s important for parents to counter messages that promote junk food.

“Parents are the most influential people in their children’s life and they have a daily opportunity to influence their children’s nutritional choices by being a role model for healthy eating,” said pediatrician Elise J. Branca, MD, of Cape Cod Pediatrics in Harwich and Forestdale.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics website has a very helpful nutrition section as a resource guide for parents.”

Healthy eating is a lifestyle choice from which the whole family can benefit, said Dr. Branca.

“Parents can keep sugar sweetened beverages and higher calorie snacks out of the house, choosing not to buy them. Placing healthy foods and beverages such as water, fruits and vegetables in a prominent location in the kitchen will encourage children to choose them for snacks. Including children in meal preparation will also encourage them to try healthy foods that they might otherwise avoid.”

Developing healthy eating habits at an early age has a long-term impact.

“Childhood obesity has become more prevalent in our society,” said Dr. Branca. “It is a preventable disease and it may lead to the onset of other diseases that were once limited to the adult population. Cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes are being diagnosed more frequently in young adults and children.”

Bragg’s study looked at 14 years of advertising. The YouTube videos of food and drink ads by Taylor Swift, Maroon 5, Nicki Minaj and other music celebrities had 313 million views.

“Because of our nation’s childhood and teenage obesity public health crises, it is important to raise awareness about how companies are using celebrities popular with these audiences to market their unhealthy products,” Bragg said in a news release. “Research has already shown that food advertising leads to overeating, and the food industry spends $1.8 billion per year marketing to youth alone.”

Not every celebrity in Bragg’s study endorsed junk food. Ariana Grande did ads for a brand of bottled water, Chris Brown was part of the “Got Milk?” campaign, and Psy appeared in commercials for pistachios.