Sports used to translate to fitness, but according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins, those mega-sponsorship deals between food and beverage companies and professional sports leagues may be contributing to the nation's obesity problem.
“Among the 10 sports organizations that young viewers watch most, from the NFL to Little League, the NIH-funded research team identified dozens of sponsors and hundreds of associated advertisements promoting food and beverage products,” Collins wrote in a blog post. “The vast majority of those ads touted unhealthy items, including chips, candies, sodas and other foods high in fat, sodium or sugar, and low in nutritional value.” His uptick? These relationships mean the sports leagues are effectively encouraging bad eating habits.
Collins goes on to write "But if sports organizations have the power to encourage unhealthy eating habits, perhaps more health-conscious marketing strategies by these influential organizations could help tip the balance—and the scale—in a healthier direction. We call on them to re-examine their current approach."
The NIH-funded study sought to explore the paradox of sports fans celebrating athletes “at the pinnacle of physical fitness while being bombarded by advertisements in the stadium and on TV that promote unhealthy eating habits,” Collins said.
The NFL had the most food and nonalcoholic beverage sponsorships, followed by the National Hockey League and Little League. Of the more than 173 promoted food products that were promoted by the leagues in 2015, more than 75% were unhealthy.