Whether we like it or not, every time we turn on the TV, click on a YouTube video, or wait for a news article to load, we come face to face with advertisements featuring celebrities. As we know, celebrities endorse all types of products, from clothing brands to cleaning products to bath and beauty, and everywhere in between. One of the largest markets with celebrity endorsements is the food market. Beckham at Burger King. The Manning Brothers selling Oreos. Sofia Vergara donning red lipstick and sipping on a Diet Pepsi. As entertaining as all of this celebrity screen time is, could it be having a negative effect? Consumers are enticed by the sight of their favorite celebrities, making them more willing to buy a product. But could all of this celebrity endorsement actually be a cause for unhealthier eating habits of consumers?
The direct causation would be celebrity endorsements causing unhealthy eating habits. Since a consumer’s unhealthy eating habits cannot cause celebrity endorsements, we can rule out reverse causation. However, some confounding variables such could have an effect. For example, people who watch more TV are likely to be more inclined to snack on junk food in the first place.
I’ve thought out two hypotheses that could be the outcomes of any experiment conducted to answer my question.
- Null hypothesis—Celebrity endorsed advertisements do not cause unhealthier eating habits.
- Alternative hypothesis—Celebrity endorsed advertisements cause unhealthier eating habits.
A study performed by the NYU Langone Medical Center last June follows the idea of my question. Researchers at NYU have discovered a correlation between the frightening rise in childhood obesity and junk food advertised by well-known musicians and pop stars. They conducted a study, discovering that very few celebrities endorsed natural foods like fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed grains, but high numbers of famous people endorsed snacks, junk food, and chain restaurants.
The researchers began conducting their study by gathering data on musicians. To do so, they looked through Billboard’s Top 100 from 2013-2014, then analyzed each artist’s popularity with the youth. They discovered that 65 of the 165 celebrities picked covered 57 different food product endorsements. The scientists then researched the food brands endorsed by celebrities, finding that 21 of 26 products were considered unhealthy. However, this study was merely research. No experiments were conducted. This study also cannot be taken as gospel, because “unhealthy” in an observational sense is subjective.
Luckily, in 2006 the University of Liverpool conducted an experimental study with a similar hypothesis. In this study, 181 children from ages 8 to 11 were asked to view a 20-minute cartoon with commercial breaks containing one of three advertisements or normal footage of famous British TV sports anchor, Gary Lineker. The three commercials advertised Walker Crisps (endorsed at the time by Lineker), another unnamed snack, or a children’s toy. While they watched the show, the children were given two different bowls of chips, one marked “Walker Crisps” and the other labeled “Supermarket Crisps.” Although both bowls were actually filled with Walker Crisps, the children who viewed footage of Lineker or the commercials for Walkers Crisps ate more of the bowl labeled “Walkers” than those children who watched other commercials.
This study is interesting because it provides evidence that children are affected by celebrity endorsements even when the commercialized product isn’t being broadcast to them directly. Like we discussed in class, there is still room for chance, especially considering there is no data on the p value of this experiment. However, while this one experiment cannot prove for sure that celebrity advertisements cause unhealthier eating habits, we can throw out the null hypothesis, because there is evidence of a correlation.
What I’ve taken away from researching this question is that I should be more careful about how much I allow celebrities and the media in general to influence my purchases, especially food products. I take pride in the healthy lifestyle I try to live, and holding myself back by falling for advertising tricks would be foolish. Even though chance is always an option, the two studies I’ve looked at lead me to believe there’s a strong correlation between the unhealthy food consumption and celebrity backings. However, before we could be completely certain in the alternative hypothesis, we would need to go more in depth with our testing of it. An interesting way to take this study further would be to have participants track their eating habits of celebrity endorsed, unhealthy products and record changes in their health over an extended period of time. Researchers would then compile the data, observing whether or not the food influenced a declining healthy lifestyle.