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Teenagers Are Eating Junk and It’s Britney Spears’ Fault

New research from New York University Langone Medical Center claims that the majority of pop stars with food advertising deals are endorsing “energy-dense, nutrient-poor products,” and it's impacting young fans' health.
Photo via Flickr user yum9me

There are officially more overweight than underweight people on the planet and the British government is about to introduce a tax on high-sugar drinks in an attempt to solve its burgeoning obesity problem.

But according to a new study from New York University Langone Medical Center, this hasn't stopped celebrities like Nicki Minaj and Justin Bieber from promoting high-fat foods and sugary drinks. Published today in the Pediatrics journal, the study claims that the majority of celebrities with food advertising deals are promoting "energy-dense, nutrient-poor" junk food.

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Researchers examined 163 popular figures, finding that "65 were collectively associated with 57 different food and beverage brands owned by 38 parent companies," making food and drink the second largest category for advertising endorsements behind consumer goods such as fragrance and make-up. Of the 69 non-alcoholic beverage endorsements from these celebrities, 71 percent "promoted sugar-sweetened beverages." Of the endorsed foods, 80.8 percent "were energy dense and nutrient poor."

Deep down, we always knew that drinking Pepsi wouldn't give us a bod like Britney.

*READ MORE: Researchers Are Calling for Exercise-Based Food Labels to Fight Obesity*

Marie Bragg, one of the authors of the study and food policy psychologist at New York University, said in a press statement that it was important to highlight how junk food companies use famous faces to promote their products.

She said: "Because of [the US]'s childhood and teenage obesity public health crises, it is important to raise awareness about how companies are using celebrities popular with these audiences to market their unhealthy products.:

The researchers chose the celebrities by drawing up a list of stars from the the 2013 and 2014 Billboard Hot 100 chart, each of whom had endorsed a range of products. Popularity among young people was then measured by tallying Teen Choice Award nominations for the respective stars. (Out of the 65 celebs who lent their names to food and drink brands, 81.5 percent had more than one Teen Choice Award nomination.) The products they endorsed were then "assessed according to the Nutrient Profile Index" and non-alcoholic beverages were evaluated "based on calories from added sugar."

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The worst offenders were named as Baauer, will.i.am, Justin Timberlake, Maroon 5, and Britney Spears, who promoted unhealthy food and drink brands such Popchips, Doritos, Pepsi, and McDonald's between them.

In the statement, Bragg noted: "Most of these companies do have healthier alternatives but what we saw in our study was that the endorsements featured sugary beverages and unhealthy foods, with very little promotion of healthy products."

She found similar results in 2013 when studying food and drink endorsements from athletes.

READ MORE: Apparently Almonds Could Stop Kids from Eating Junk Food

With childhood obesity an ever-growing problem and a strong indicator of weight issues later on in life, it seems kids need all the encouragement they can get to make healthy food choices. Celebrities who tote high-calorie drinks can't be helping.

Bragg added that she acknowledges the appeal of multimillion dollar deals (looking at you, Beyoncé) but hopes that the industry will shift its marketing focus.

She said: "Perhaps they [celebrities] could play an active role in requiring their endorsements to be low calorie beverages or nutrient-rich foods. I imagine companies that are eager to sign these stars might be responsive to those kinds of requests."

In the meantime, maybe it's time we all remembered that cracking open a can ain't gonna get you closer to Timberlake.