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Sporting Stars encourage junk food consumption

Sporting Stars encourage junk food consumption
February 15, 2011

An Australian study has found parents are easily persuaded to buy junk food for their children if it is endorsed by a sporting celebrity.

The investigation into junk food marketing was conducted by the Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC), which is made up of groups like the Cancer Council of Victoria. It is published in the journal, Public Health Nutrition.

The online study asked more than 1,500 parents which products they would buy.

They were asked to choose between an unhealthy product and a comparable but healthier alternative based on the packaging.

The parents surveyed clearly preferred packets that made claims about nutrients, like source of fibre, but they were even more convinced when a well-known sportsperson endorsed the food - whether it was a cereal, flavoured milk or chicken nuggets.

OPC spokesperson Jane Martin says the power of celebrity was clear in parents' decision making, stating "for people who didn't read the nutrient information panel, they were much more likely to choose a less healthy product - twice as likely in fact to choose the less healthy product - if it had a nutrient claim and nearly two-and-a-half times more likely to choose the product if it had the sport celebrity endorsement.

"The sporting celebrity really conferred a whole lot of things onto the food.

"Parents thought that the product was more healthy, that it was better quality, and they were more likely to say that they would buy.

"So it really does have a huge impact on what people perceive the product really is."

Martin says the survey results make the Obesity Policy Coalition even more keen to see the recommendations of a recent food labelling review acted on, adding "the recommendation was that multiple traffic lights are put on the front of packaged food.

"That would mean that if a product was high in salt, fat or sugar it would have a label on the front of the pack which was red if it was high, amber if it was medium and green if it was low.

"That would help cut through some of this marketing spin."

Martin says claims about nutrition content should also only be placed on food which is healthy overall, adding that those pushing for labelling reform are expecting strong resistance from food manufacturers.

"In Europe, where a traffic light system was proposed, more than $1 billion was spent fighting it by the food industry and we would expect that that would happen here.

"Government has said they're going to take a year to respond to the recommendations of labelling logic which certainly allows industry a long time to have an influence."

For more information go to www.nutritionsociety.org/node/239


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