Obesity Villains? Katy Perry and Beyoncé

The study everyone is talking about comes from the Langone Medical Center at New York University, where a team led by Prof. Marie Bragg performed what has been called the “first quantifiable examination of the nutritional quality of food and drink endorsements by music celebrities popular among teens.” Arthur Dominic Villasanta described how rigorous nutritional analysis was employed to evaluate the health value of foods and drinks endorsed by entertainers idolized by teens.

Several dozen stars of popular music were chosen according to certain criteria, which included receiving a Teen Choice Award nomination and appearing in Billboard magazine’s “Hot 100” list. They are people with a high recognition factor among the youth; people who serve as role models. They are listened to and imitated.

The investigators used an advertising database called AdScope to examine all the ads made in a four-year period utilizing the talents of these people. Out of the 163 identified thought influencers, 65 were found to have done what might be characterized as selling out. They peddled, between them, 57 brands of drinks and foods.

And yes, selling is the correct word. As Pepsi executive Adam Harter freely admits, the Super Bowl halftime performers are not just artistic collaborators but marketing partners, and although they are the biggest examples of the trend, selling is also unequivocally the job of even the most obscure backup singer in the least-watched commercial.

As Yasmin Tayag reported, of these 65 celebrities:

[…] nearly all of them were associated with food and nonalcoholic drinks, a massive 81 percent of which were deemed “nutrient poor” according to the Nutrient Profile Model, a standard food industry metric.

By “associated,” we mean enjoying some form of reward for representing a brand in the marketplace. By “nutrient poor” we mean junk food, or junk food’s close relatives. Of the celebrities whose advertising careers were scrutinized, only one, Snoop Dogg, endorsed a natural product considered healthful, namely pistachio nuts.

Two bad girls

A while back, we mentioned the disapproval that greeted singing star Beyoncé’s promotion of Pepsi as far back as 2002 and 2003. Lately, the singer has been featured in such headlines as “Study Finds Beyoncé and Taylor Swift Shill for Sugary, Nutrient-Poor Garbage Food.”

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) criticized her multi-year, $50 million contract agreeing to endorse Pepsi products. One project was a global advertising campaign that introduced the song “Grown Woman,” whose lyrics include the line, “I’m a grown woman, I can do whatever I want,” including, presumably, drink Pepsi and eat snacks all day. Another line of the song declaims “She got that bum,” an appurtenance which anyone who indulges in enough Pepsi products will certainly attain.

Katy Perry has been on the CSPI radar for a while, since they and several other advocacy groups published an ad in Variety urging her to change her mind about selling out to the same fizzy drink corporation. Activist Michael Jacobson told the press, “We’re focusing on Katy because she’s so popular with young people.” The ad copy read, in part:

Being popular among children brings with it an enormous responsibility. Don’t exploit that popularity by marketing a product that causes disease in your fans.

Although industry publication Adweek covered the incident editorially, its fellow entertainment publications The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard protected Perry by refusing to allow the open letter to her in their pages. Journalist Andrew Hampp noted that Pepsi’s support ranged “from co-hosting the 2012 premiere of her Part of Me concert film, to supporting her 2013 VMA performance under the Brooklyn Bridge and the premiere of PRISM single ‘Dark Horse’.”

With Pepsi’s help, Perry engages the young with her interactive ways, like asking fans to vote on what song she would sing for an awards ceremony. Hampp’s interview with soft-drink exec Adam Harter established that Perry is totally “on-brand” for his corporation, because of her energy and optimism and of course the fact that she has more Twitter followers than anybody. The Pepsi rep told the reporter, “The ability to tap into that fanbase and social network was really appealing.”

Of the Top 10 Twitter personalities, five others besides Perry are singers. Interestingly, the entity with the 9th largest number of followers is Twitter itself.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Study Says Recording Artists Help Boost Childhood Obesity in the US,” ChinaTopix.com, 06/06/16
Source: “Super Bowl Exclusive: Pepsi’s Adam Harter on Hiring Katy Perry,” Billboard.com, 01/30/15
Source: “Study Finds Beyonce and Taylor Swift Shill for Sugary, Nutrient-Poor Garbage Food,” Inverse.com, 06/06/16
Source: “Katy Perry under fire for promoting childhood obesity by shilling Pepsi,” Examiner.com, 10/21/13
Source: “Health Groups Target Katy Perry for Marketing Pepsi,” Adweek.com, 10/21/13
Photo credit: Noodles and Beef via VisualHunt.com/CC BY

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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