Celebrities who endorse specific foods in TV commercials are a powerful
influence on children, and that effect may extend beyond the advertisement
itself, according to a new study from the UK.
Based on observations of 181 children, researchers found the kids ate more
potato chips after seeing ads featuring a popular UK sports figure - and after
seeing him as the host of a TV show - than kids who watched commercials for toys
"Obviously when they saw Gary Lineker in the advertisement, they ate a lot
more crisps... but what was surprising was when we showed him presenting his
show we found that it had the same effect as the advertisement," said Jason C G
Halford, from the University of Liverpool who worked on the study.
Past research has shown that kids are more likely to pick foods endorsed by
celebrities, even when it's fruit. For example, a 2012 study found kids who were
offered both cookies and apples were more likely to choose the apple if it had
an Elmo sticker on it.
That phenomenon is worrisome, researchers say, since most foods advertised on
TV are unhealthy, and could affect a child's future weight and health.
How the test was done
To test the extent of celebrity influence on kids' eating habits, Halford and
his colleagues recruited 181 children between the ages of eight and 11 years
old. Each child watched one of four commercials or TV show clips that were
embedded in a 20-minute cartoon.
One of the commercials featured Lineker, a former soccer player who has been
endorsing the potato chip brand Walker's Crisps since 1995.
Another clip was from Lineker's popular TV sports show without any mention of
the chips. The two other commercials were for salted nuts and a toy.
After watching the cartoon and commercials, the children were allowed to eat
from two bowls of chips. One bowl was marked as Walker's Crisps.
The other was marked as "supermarket brand." The researchers then measured
how much the children ate from each bowl.
They report in the Journal of Pediatrics that the children ate about the same
amount of the supermarket chips regardless of which commercials or clip they
watched - about 15 grams.
But kids who watched Lineker's potato chip commercial or his TV show ate
significantly more of the Walker's Crisps branded potato chips - about 35g,
compared to the kids who watched the nut or toy commercials, who ate between 20g
and 25g of Walker's Crisps."
What the study found
Our findings that the celebrity endorser influence extends beyond the
celebrity's involvement in commercials and does not affect intake of
non-endorsed brands of the same item speak to the strength of the associations
that children develop between celebrity and branded products," the researchers
The authors acknowledge some of their study's limitations, for example, they
did not know the children's favourite foods, which could have an impact on how
much of the snacks provided they chose to eat.
Still, Halford's team points out that UK law currently prohibits "celebrities
popular with children" from advertising foods high in fat, sugar and salt.
The American Academy of Pediatrics lists celebrity endorsements among the
advertising "techniques to which children and adolescents are more
The study's results show that Lineker's endorsement didn't just get kids to
eat a specific brand, it may have influenced them to eat more overall, Halford
"You're not just going to get that swapping, you're going to get a general
increase in consumption," he said.
"I'm not saying food advertisements are the cause of childhood obesity," said
Halford, but a combination of solutions to the problem should be considered, he