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Cut the fat - ban junk food endorsements by sports stars

Monday 21 February, 2011 by Laura

It's refreshing to see Shane Warne under the media spotlight for reasons other than his love life. Last week he was receiving attention for his somewhat unscrupulous McDonalds endorsement.

It really irritates me when any celebrity, but especially athletes or sports stars, put their face and name to brands that are targeting children with junk food. Role modelling is so important. It might just be me, but when you are revered as a sporting hero (by some), you should take some responsibility for the influence you have.

But I guess the ultimate responsibility lies with the food industry, rather than the celebrity.

Research has found it's not just children that are easily convinced by a sports personality appearing on packaging for junk food, parents are also susceptible to such marketing techniques.

Cancer Council Victoria published a study last week that found nutrition endorsements by well-known sports personalities and selective nutrition claims on food packaging influence parents to buy energy-dense nutrient-poor food for their children.

The online study asked parents to choose between an unhealthy food product and a comparable but healthier alternative, based on the packaging. Parents were also given the option of reading the nutrition information panel but less than half (44%) chose to.

When presented with the two options, those who didn't read the nutritional information were more than twice as likely to choose the unhealthy product if it was endorsed by a sports celebrity, and almost twice as likely to do so if there was a prominent nutrient claim, i.e. source of fibre, on the front of pack.

Jane Martin, senior policy adviser for the Obesity Policy Coalition, said it was unrealistic to expect parents to always read and compare the information on the nutrition panel, which is why a simpler system of traffic light labels, as recommended by the recent food labelling review, was such a good idea.

"The study revealed that without clear nutrition information, parents are also significantly more likely to be swayed by sports star endorsement. We would like to see this powerful promotional technique used on unhealthy foods stopped."

What do you think about sport celebrities endorsing unhealthy products? Are you for traffic light labelling?

I think I've made my views clear: obesity is a real problem in Australia therefore it is especially important that food packaging needs to be more honest and up-front.

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