Mar 26, 2018

The push to get sports leagues to cut out junk food sponsors

Children watch a Buffalo Sabres' practice during the NHL Kraft Hockeyville 2010. Photo: Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

A team of scientists is calling upon sports organizations — including NFL and the Little League — to have healthier foods and drinks shown by their sponsors, in an effort to help cut childhood obesity. In a new study published in Pediatrics Monday, the team showed 76% of sports sponsors promoted food and drinks with a low nutrient amount and 52% showcased sugar-sweetened drinks.

Why it matters: Food and nonalcoholic beverage companies spend millions of dollars on professional sports sponsorships and strong associations have been made between food advertising and child obesity by other studies. The CDC says nearly 1 in 5 children in school (ages 6 to 19 years) in the U.S. has obesity and a separate recent study suggests children ages 2–5 have experienced a sharp increase in severe obesity.

"[I]f sports organizations can work with food companies to showcase healthier products, it would be an important part of the overall policy picture that includes soda taxes, calorie labels, etc."
— Marie Bragg, study author from NYU's School of Medicine, told Axios

What they did: The scientists used Nielsen TV viewership data to identify the 10 sports organizations with the most viewers ages 2–17 years, searched for all their sponsorships, and selected the food and beverage ones. They scored each food product using the Nutrient Profile Model used in the U.K. and Australia and sorted beverages into different types. They then calculated the number of YouTube views associated with the food and beverage sponsorship ads in their sample.

What they found: Youth watched telecasts associated with these sports organizations more than 412 million times. They found 273 ads that featured food and/or beverage products 328 times and product logos 83 times. The NFL had the most food and nonalcoholic beverage sponsors, followed by the NHL and Little League. YouTube sponsorship ads totaled 195.6 million views.

"I was surprised to see that Little League had so many food and beverage sponsors. With childhood obesity rates remaining high in this country, we need to be promoted healthy nutrition messages to kids. I was also shocked to see that these sports sponsorship food ads generated 195 million views on YouTube. We normally think of TV as the main source of ad exposure, and it still is, but social media is creeping up as well," Bragg said.

Why they focused on the sports industry: "We focused on the sports industry because they are inherently focused on health and physical fitness because of the very nature of sports. The irony that sports organizations are used as a vehicle to promote junk food also means that kids are getting mixed messages — why are sports organizations showing kids that exercise is important and a healthy diet isn’t?" Bragg said.

"The marketing association with sports is especially insidious because it gives the product a 'health halo' distracting from its health harms. The most alarming finding in this study was that full-sugar soda and full-sugar sports drinks were the products most frequently featured in sports sponsorships. That’s hundreds of millions of views, just on YouTube. And unlike a 30-second commercial, many of these ads are seen the entire time the field of play is shown when kids are very attentive to the screen."
— Lori Dorfman, Berkeley Media Group director who was not part of this study, told Axios

Industry response: According to CNN, Hershey and Pepsi-Cola (both mentioned in the study) and the American Beverage Association issued statements describing how their organization addresses the issues in this study, including participating in voluntary pledges to not market to children under the age of 12. However, sports events generally target an adult audience, so the companies may not be using those restrictions.

Caveat: Bragg says the study limitations include the fact they don't know the number of repeated views, or the age demographic of YouTube viewers.

Go deeper: Watch this explainer video from Bragg and colleagues.

Go deeper

U.S. coronavirus updates: Death toll surpasses 8,400

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Recorded deaths from the coronavirus surpassed 8,400 in the U.S. on Saturday, per Johns Hopkins data. The death toll in the U.S. has risen over 1,000 every day for the past four days, since April 1.

The big picture: President Trump said Saturday America's is facing its "toughest week, between this week and next week." Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the U.S. should expect to see deaths continue to rise in this period.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 8 mins ago - Health

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 8:30 p.m. ET: 1,197,405 — Total deaths: 64,606 — Total recoveries: 246,152Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 8:30 p.m. ET: 308,850 — Total deaths: 8,407 — Total recoveries: 14,652Map.
  3. Public health latest: CDC launches national trackers and recommends face coverings in public. Federal government will cover costs of COVID-19 treatment for uninsured. The virus is hitting poor, minority communities harder and upending childbirth.
  4. 2020 latest: "We have no contingency plan," Trump said on the 2020 Republican National Convention. "We're having the convention at the end of August."
  5. Business updates: Restaurants step up for health care workers. Employees are pressuring companies to provide protections during coronavirus.
  6. Oil latest: Monday meeting among oil-producing countries to discuss supply curbs is reportedly being delayed amid tensions between Saudi Arabia and Russia.
  7. Education update: Many college-age students won't get coronavirus relief checks.
  8. 1 🏀 thing: The WNBA postpones start of training camps and season.
  9. What should I do? Pets, moving and personal health. Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  10. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

World coronavirus updates: Spain tracks more cases than Italy

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

Spain overtook Italy in its number of coronavirus cases on Saturday. The global death toll has surpassed 62,000, per Johns Hopkins data.

The latest: About half the planet's population is on lockdown amid the coronavirus crisis. Fatalities are exponentially increasing across Europe, with roughly half of deaths worldwide located in Italy and Spain.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 7 hours ago - Health