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Major sports leagues promote unhealthy products, study finds

Social scientists at the NYU School of Medicine are warning that most of the food and beverage products advertised by sponsors of major sports organizations are unhealthy. These endorsements are likely worsening the issue of child and adolescent obesity in the United States

The researchers found that the 10 most-watched sports organizations, including the NFL and NASCAR, promote food products that have little nutritional value. They based this information on the guidelines of the Nutrient Profile Model (NPM), which is used in in the United Kingdom and Australia.

The NPM system assigns a score to all foods, which are categorized by a point scale called the Nutrient Profile Index (NPI). Products that receive an NPI score of 64 or higher are considered to be nutritious.

The experts discovered that over 75 percent of the foods most widely promoted by sports organizations had an average NPI score of around 38.

The investigation was focused on sports sponsorship agreements between 2006 and 2016 across the ten sports with the most youth viewers.

The NFL led all organizations with 10 food and beverage sponsors, followed by the NHL with seven. Little League Baseball was found to have six sponsorships, which was both surprising and concerning to the researchers.

The NFL was also found to project by far the largest number of impressions through advertising among viewers between the ages of 2 and 17. A total of over 224 million television impressions and more than 93 million YouTube impressions were generated by the NFL to youths.

Marie Bragg is an assistant professor of Population Health and the study’s lead author.

“The U.S. is in the throes of a child and adolescent obesity epidemic, and these findings suggest that sports organizations and many of their sponsors are contributing, directly and indirectly, to it,” said Bragg.

“Sports organizations need to develop more health-conscious marketing strategies that are aligned with recommendations from national medical associations.”

The study did not account for certain impressions made on young sports viewers, such as in-stadium advertising and sponsorship appearances during games.

“Unhealthy food and beverage promotion through organized sports is pervasive,” said Bragg. “These organizations must put forth a better effort to protect their youngest and most impressionable fans.”

The study is published in the journal Pediatrics.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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