How top sports leagues promote unhealthy eating behaviour

New York: Top sports leagues may be contributing to the escalating obesity epidemic among children and adolescents as the majority of food and beverages marketed through sponsorship of these events are unhealthy, says a US-based study.

“Unhealthy food and beverage promotion through organised sports is pervasive,” said the study’s lead investigator Marie Bragg, Assistant Professor at New York University School of Medicine.

“These organisations must put forth a better effort to protect their youngest and most impressionable fans,” she added.

For the study published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers analysed Nielsen statistics of televised sports programmes among children 2-17 years of age.

The study found that, among the 10 most watched sports organisations, most of the food products were rated “unhealthy” under the guidelines of the Nutrient Profile Model, a profiling system that identifies nutritious value in Britain and Australia.

The US does not have a comparable measurement system.

The researchers examined sports sponsorship agreements covering 2006-2016 between food and beverage manufacturers and the 10 sports organisations with the most youth viewers.

These organisations were — the National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Hockey League (NHL), the National Basketball Association (NBA), the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)-even Little League Baseball and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

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

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