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Athletes endorse junk food, send "mixed messages" to teenagers and parents

4:28 PM, Oct 7, 2013   |    comments
courtesy: Getty Images
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WASHINGTON (WUSA9) - Athletes like LeBron James and Serena Williams endorsed a considerable amount of junk food in 2010, according to a new study published in Pediatrics

The study builds on earlier evidence that parents are more likely to buy athlete-endorsed foods, because they assume the products are healthy. 

Researchers found 28.3 percent of athlete endorsements in 2010 were for food and drinks, second only to sporting goods.

Soda, sugary sports drinks and fast food accounted for most of the ads. Of the 46 drinks featured in commercials, 93 percent get all of their calories from added sugars. 

Leading the pack for unhealthy endorsements were athletes LeBron James, Serena Williams and Peyton Manning. James reportedly received $5 million for endorsing Bubblelicious Gum. 

Kobe Bryant was also a top endorser, receiving $12 million a year for his contract with McDonalds. 

The researchers -- led by Yale University's Marie Bragg -- said unhealthy foods marketed by healthy athletes makes for "an ironic combination that sends mixed messages about diet and health." 

Children aged 12 to 17 saw more of the ads than any other age group.

The study likens junk food endorsements to ads that used to show athletes smoking cigarettes -- a marketing tactic that ended in 1964. Public pressure could lead to "a similar liability for athletes to endorse unhealthy foods and beverages," the researchers said. 

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