Quantifying the Health Damage of Celebrity Endorsement of Junk Foods

LeBron Coke

LeBron James, through his $16 million endorsement deal with Coke and McDonald’s will have been responsible for a billion spoons of sugar consumed in soft drinks through the life of his 6 year contract. This figure has been calculated by social epidemiologist Abdul El-Sayed, Fellow at Dēmos, a non-partisan public policy center in New York.

In an open letter to LeBron, El-Sayed asks the NBA mega-star to

DROP YOUR ENDORSEMENTS WITH COCA-COLA AND MCDONALD’S…you should be a role model for what good health and regular exercise can do….But instead, you’re doing the opposite…

He then calculates the sugar based on the expected return (in sales) by McDonald’s and Coke on their multimillion dollar investment in campaigns featuring LeBron.

Here’s the most brutally and beautifully honest part of the letter:

You and I graduated high school in the same year. Since then, I’ve been a student trying to learn enough to make a difference in public health and medicine. You’ve been an international megastar athlete, garnering fame and fortune playing your favorite sport. It’s humbling to think that at 27, you could make more of a difference in public health by dropping these endorsements than I will in my whole career.  read more…

We’re sure most public policy activists fee the same. Just imagine what would happen if Beyonce would scrap her $50M (!) deal with Pepsi and instead create a nutrition advocacy program with Jay-Z…

What will it take for one of the mega-idols of our culture to stand up to the financial temptation?

  • malmedia

    I understand the point of this article. But I don’t agree entirely. I feel that ALL ADULTS need to take more responsibility for the health of the nation. Succumbing to the bombardment of commercials and other advertising that cause excess consumption of food, cars, electronics, toys, etc… could all be lumped up as the same problem. We need to do more to make better choices for US and OUR CHILDREN. Pepsi, Coke, McDonalds, Taco Bell, KFC, Wendy’s etc… would not be bombarding us with commercial for eating nutrition deficient foods if we as consumers were not so weak willed into buying them. We are often more concerned about convenience than health. People rather spend money on quick/convenient/cheap food and prescriptions to counter their affect than to eat whole foods with no butter, salt, sugar, and artificial colors and flavors. We’d rather buy a box of preservatives made in a lab than organic green leafy vegetables. But that is just my opinion.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/ Fooducate

      We are not weaker willed than our parents were.
      Junk food companies are much stronger than they were 30 years ago.

  • Drey

    It goes along the lines of blaming tobacco companies for your loved one dying of smoking related complications.
    Yes it would be nice to see celebrities back a more healthy life BUT its also their money and in the end, business. It’s up to us to make the choices we need to.

    • Brit

      Some of us can’t make choices; those living in a food desert, children in the cafeteria at school, those who don’t earn a living sufficient to feed even a small household. It is up to us to make the choices that will help those who can’t help themselves.

      • Tom

        Prepare lunch for your children.
        Fast food and junk food is not really cheap either – it is cheaper to prepare you own, but people don’t want to “waste” time on preparing food when the spend it instead in front of the TV.
        If you use basic ingredients like rice, beans, seasonal veggies you can feed a family on a small budget as well.

        • Brit

          I agree wholeheartedly but I am talking about some (actually millions) who can’t get to a store or farmer’s market. Until something is done to insure that healthy food is intelligently distributed, we should be doing all we can to get real food into school cafeterias and that real food is available in convenience stores. I can assure you that cigarettes, junk food and alcohol is available at the convenience stores on every block of our cities. I have vacationed in many large cities and noted that there are very few grocery stores. To get to one, you have to have a car. It is not an urban legend that in most inner-city neighborhoods it is easier to get drugs or a gun than it is to get a tomato. Agribusiness could spend a little less on advertising and coupons and find a way to distribute real food to more venues. My point is, a lot of people have no choices available. Preparing lunch for you children is self evident, unless you don’t have food in the house. Until food is available for purchase, we need to make sure that real food available in all schools. It would be a start.