Elite athletes ambivalent on sports advertising

5 April 2012

A majority of elite athletes would not support their promotion of alcohol and junk food, a study by the University of Sydney has found.

The findings are published in the April issue of Health Promotion Journal of Australia.

"Building on the resistance of elite athletes to promoting alcohol and junk food could transform the use of sport in sponsorship and advertising," said Dr Anne Grunseit from the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney.

For the first time, the national study led by Dr Grunseit, examined almost 2000 elite athletes' perceptions about their role in health promotion.

"While a majority (91.5 percent) of elite athletes showed a strong disinclination, on an individual level, to actively promoting unhealthy products, there was more acceptance (54.4 percent) of sport as a marketing vehicle for such products generally.

"The perceived need for the sporting industry to be able to continue to earn money from food and alcohol advertising and sponsorship might explain this passive tolerance."

Younger, amateur and female athletes were less supportive of unhealthy product promotion than older, male, team and professional athletes.

"If encouraged, the personal resistance of many of these elites to the promotion of unhealthy products in sport may translate to a lower likelihood of their celebrity endorsement of those products as they become more successful and well-known."

The survey also showed that while low numbers of athletes reported tobacco use and takeaway food consumption, but a high proportion reported binge drinking.

Research shows the products children request and purchase are highly influenced by the sponsorship of elite sporting teams or athletes, Dr Grunseit observed.

"In terms of public policy, as with tobacco, the regulation of unhealthy sponsorship or the use of counter-marketing, (for example quit smoking advertisements) to reduce demand for a particular product could be effective.

"An obvious counter-marketing message would be that some of these products are likely to undermine your sports performance," Dr Grunseit said.

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