Childhood Obesity Role Models: Should Athletes Endorse Junk Food?

When it comes to fighting childhood obesity, many parents and organizations point to athletes are great role models for exercise. We tell kids “eat healthy and exercise regularly, and you could be the next LeBron James or Peyton Manning!” After all, who better to convince kids about the benefits of sports and staying active than a super-star athlete pulling down seven to eight figures a year?


So what do you do when those role models send mixed messages that go against your efforts to fight childhood obesity? On the one hand, there is no arguing that Peyton Manning is in excellent shape! Yet he is a spokesperson for Pepsi, a beverage filled with empty calories and sugar. LeBron James appears in McDonald’s ads regularly, while Serena Williams pushes Oreos. What kind of mixed message is this sending out kids? More importantly, how can we, as parents, put a positive spin on the mixed message?

Should athletes endorse junk food?

Should athletes endorse junk food? Probably not. It’s a bit hypocritical for an athlete to talk about how her body is a temple and she only eats organic foods, then appear in a commercial for chocolate cream-filled cookies stuffed with artificial ingredients. It would make a lot more sense for the athletes to talk about moderation. Use that endorsement to send a message to kids that while the occasional Happy Meal is okay, eating a balanced diet is the way to fight childhood obesity.

What do you do when your child’s role model supports foods that can lead to childhood obesity?

There isn’t really an easy answer to that. Your child chooses role models based on his or her own interests. If she’s a huge fan of tennis, she may relate to Serena Williams, while football fans can relate to Peyton Manning. You don’t really have a say in who your child chooses as a role model. You may think you can control it by choosing what they watch on TV or read in magazines, but unless your child has no exposure to other children, he’s going to decide for himself. Those of us who grew up in the 80s can tell you that despite our parents’ best efforts to keep us out of lace fishnet tights, we still looked to Madonna for inspiration!

So what is a mom fighting against childhood obesity to do when her son’s favorite football player is seen on TV eating a Big Mac? Try these tips:

  • Use it as a discussion about enjoying goodies in moderation. Ask your child, do you really think that such and such athlete lives on a diet of cookies, cakes and soda?
  • Talk about the foods that help improve muscle tone, endurance and other qualities that make a good athlete.
  • Discuss with your child the fact that even though you look up to someone, no one is perfect. Role models can make poor choices too.
  • Don’t tell your child that their favorite athlete is a horrible person for supporting junk food! This will just cause them to close their ears to the rest of the conversation!
  • Try to find more positive role models in your child’s interest and introduce them in a non-forceful way. Don’t say “hey, you should like so and so better!” because kids will smell your ruse a mile away. Instead, leave magazines with those athletes around the house. Share videos of them. Be sneaky! You were a kid once, you know how to do it!

Following these tips, along with practicing what you preach yourself, will help keep your child on the right path to avoiding childhood obesity. This article was inspired by an article on the Huffington Post. Check it out for more of the back story on athletes endorsing junk food.

Want to learn more about childhood obesity? Check out these videos!

So what do you think? Should athletes endorse junk food? How do you handle it when your child says “but LeBron James drinks Pepsi all the time!”?

10 thoughts on “Childhood Obesity Role Models: Should Athletes Endorse Junk Food?”

  1. for me, it doesn’t matter. We are the role models for our children and an athlete eating junk food isnt going to sway our kids.

  2. I’d answer the same way as if my child said his friends were jumping off of a bridge – just because they are doesn’t mean you have to.
    And I completely agree with Chrysa that athletes are able to treat themselves because of the shape they stay in.

  3. I think seeing an athlete eating “junk” food is the perfect opportunity to discuss the fact that if you work as hard as they do and expend so many calories you’re able to indulge in “bad” foods from time to time.

  4. Princess Anderson

    I am glad this article puts the responsability where it SHOULD be; on the parents. I am so tired of the blame-game!

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