Star athletes like LeBron, Serena cash in on junk food endorsements

Public health officials and others have previously criticized professional athletes for endorsing less-than-healthful food. But Bragg said this was the first quantification of the phenomenon.

Last month, the American Beverage Assn. joined with First Lady Michelle Obama and the Partnership for a Healthier America, of which Mrs. Obama serves as honorary chair, to support an initiative encouraging people to drink water.

In a statement about that initiative, the beverage industry group – whose companies include Coca-Cola Co., Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, Nestle Waters North America and PepsiCo – said the industry had long been committed to the health and wellness of Americans.

The Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative is a volunteer program that many food and beverage companies have joined, vowing to advertise healthful foods on children's programs. Bragg called that an important step, but some critics have noted that many programs, including sports events, are not children’s programs but are still watched by children, as are the ads placed on them.

The Pediatrics researchers noted that tobacco companies had a history of ads with athletes including baseball legends Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig. They noted that the industry adopted a voluntary advertising code in 1964 not to use athletes.

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mary.macvean@latimes.com

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