By Dr. Mercola
Junk food and sugary beverages contribute to skyrocketing rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, and even strokes — and not just among adults1.
Food and beverage companies spend around $2 billion a year promoting unhealthy foods to kids2, and while ultimately it's the parents' responsibility to provide their children healthy foods and drinks, celebrity endorsements can make this much more difficult than it should be.
The latest example is that of Beyonce, who just signed a $50 million deal with Pepsi as its global brand ambassador.
Another far more bizarre example of unhealthy celebrity endorsements is that of the Olsen twins, who recently released a very limited edition collection of handbags, retailing for an absurd $55,000 per bag. Besides the outrageous price tag, the most shocking thing about these bags is that they're decorated with prescription pills, which has raised more than a few eyebrows.
PHOTO CREDIT: JUST ONE EYE
As reported by Toofab.com3:
"Making the artistic decision even more odd is the knowledge that Mary-Kate Olsen's friend, Heath Ledger, died of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs including pain killers, sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medication."
Giving Prescription Drugs a Glam Makeover
It's hard to tell what the underlying message of the pill-encrusted bags is intended to be, but it certainly comes across as an attempt to glamorize the use of prescription drugs — especially among those who can actually afford both the drugs and the bags.
While I've not heard of any links between the Olsen twins and Big Pharma, these kinds of fashion statements may be among the most effective forms of advertising of all, especially among the younger crowd...
As described in the 1928 book "Propaganda" by Edward Bernays, the father of PR, the public relations business is less about selling things than about creating the conditions for things to sell themselves. And what better way to increase social acceptance of drugs — and hence their use — than having them featured on exclusive fashion items? I bet CEO's at pharmaceutical companies everywhere are smiling from ear to ear at the thought of receiving such fantastic advertising for their wares... It's the kind of marketing that is truly priceless.
The Burdens of a Role Model
Beyonce's new Pepsi deal has also garnered a lot of criticism, which can be seen as a sign that the tide is finally starting to change. It would seem people are getting sick and tired of role models who don't, well, act like role models. Reporting on the singer's controversial decision to attach her face and talent to Pepsi, Frugivoremag.com writes4:
"Reactions have been mixed. Fans view the campaign as a momentous accomplishment for the singer, while others chide Beyoncé for supporting a sugary-soda brand which is a health affront to many American consumers. They even accuse the diva of hypocrisy for appearing in Michelle Obama's 'Let's Move' initiative to encourage good health among children and later, shelling Pepsi cans.
One commenter said: 'Parkinson's, heart disease, obesity, stroke and Alzheimer's tincture. Another celebrity getting paid to keep America on their mainline like heroine. I respectfully decline supporting this travesty.' Another writes: 'With diabetes and other ailments at an all time high, one would wonder why celebrities who claim to care so much about their fans would endorse soda. Almighty dollar.'"
Beyonce has defended her decision stating that the Pepsi brand "embraces creativity and understands that artists evolve" and that "as a businesswoman," this allows her to "work with a lifestyle brand with no compromise and without sacrificing my creativity." Be that as it may, no company on earth pays $50 million for a "brand ambassador" unless they're quite certain their chosen endorser will have a positive effect on their bottom line. In this case, that means more people chugging more Pepsi. Some may argue that celebrities should not be held responsible for the bad choices their fans make, but if it's a bad choice, why attach your name and reputation to it?
Big Pharma has become one of the most powerful influences in the US, if not the world, because of effective marketing. Ditto for the junk food and soda industries. In short, advertising works, and with the right celebrity endorsement, you could sell ice to an Eskimo... The Center for Science in the Public Interest is now urging Beyonce to reconsider her collaboration with Pepsi. In a letter to the star, CSPI writes5:
"More than any other category of food or beverage, sugary drinks are associated with increased risk of weight gain and obesity, which increase the risk of diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease... In fact, each additional sugary drink consumed per day increases the likelihood of a child becoming obese by 60 percent. Each soda consumed per day increases the risk of heart disease in men by 19 percent. Drinking one or two sugary drinks per day increases one's risk for type 2 diabetes by 25 percent...
You occupy a unique position in the cultural life of this country and are an inspiring role model for millions of young people. Your image is one of success, health, talent, fitness and glamour. But by lending your name and image to PepsiCo, you are associating those positive attributes with a product that is quite literally sickening Americans."
Again, while artists want to be respected for their creative and artistic visions, it sure would be nice if more of them would embrace the responsibilities (unwanted as they may be) that come with being a high-profile personality and role model, especially if they have a younger audience, like Beyonce and the Olsen twins do...
Is Beyonce Part of Pepsi's Plan to Cash in on Health-Conscious Consumers?
Pepsi has repeatedly tried to weasel their way into the pantries of health-conscious consumers, so in that respect, the choice of Beyonce fits the bill in more ways than one. Remember Pepsi Raw, which was introduced in the UK in 2008? In the US, a similar product was released under the name Pepsi Natural. This was just one of many of the soda company's attempts at cashing in on the rise in popularity of all things natural and healthy. The attempt flopped, and the product was removed from the market just two years after its release.
Last year, Pepsi Next was released. Pepsi Next claims to have 60 percent less sugar without sacrificing taste, but the secret to keeping its sweet taste comes from the use of not only high fructose corn syrup, but also THREE artificial sweeteners: aspartame, acesulfame potassium, and sucralose, all of which are linked to several dozen serious health risks6. It's all part of the company's plan to beef up their share of profits from the "healthy foods" category, with reports noting they hope to boost their nutrition business from $10 billion to $30 billion by 20207.
This is a classic corporate move. Find something that people are interested in and sell it to them even if it is deceptive and worsens their health. Most of these companies have absolutely no interest in protecting or promoting good health; they are focused on their bottom line profits — and star power like Beyonce, and many others, help them do just that.
Beware: It Starts Early — Your Child's Taste Preferences are Created by Age 3!
Did you know that when you feed preschool-aged children junk foods high in sugar, salt and unhealthy fats, it has a lasting impact on their taste preferences? Think about it — how many kids and teens do you know that don't like soda and sweet foods? Part of the reason for this limited taste preference is the fact that their taste buds are literally trained within the very first years of life (in some cases from birth, as infant formula can contain loads of sugar!).
In a recent study8, all of the children tested showed preferences for junk foods, and all (even those who were just 3 years old!) were able to recognize some soda, fast food, and junk food brands. The researchers concluded what you probably already suspect: kids who were exposed to junk food, soda and fast food, via advertising (and also because their parents fed them these foods), learned to recognize and prefer these foods over healthier choices.
This does have an impact on their health, as nutrients from quality foods are critical in helping your child reach his or her fullest potential.
Another study9 from British researchers revealed that kids who ate a predominantly processed food diet at age 3 had lower IQ scores at age 8.5. For each measured increase in processed foods, participants had a 1.67-point decrease in IQ. As you might suspect, the opposite also held true, with those eating healthier diets experiencing higher IQ levels. For each measured increase in dietary score, which meant the child was eating more fruits and vegetables for instance, there was a 1.2-point increase in IQ.
The reality is, the best time to shape your kids' dietary habits is while they're still young. This means starting from birth with breast milk and then transitioning to solid foods that have valuable nutrients, like egg yolk, avocado and sweet potatoes. (You can easily cross any form of grain-based infant cereal off of this list.)
From there, ideally you will feed your child healthy foods that your family is also eating -- grass-fed meats, organic veggies, vegetable juice, raw dairy and nuts, and so on. These are the foods your child will thrive on, and it's important they learn what real, healthy food is right from the get-go. This way, when they become tweens and teenagers, they may eat junk food here and there at a friend's house, but they will return to real food as the foundation of their diet -- and that habit will continue on with them for a lifetime.
My newly revised nutrition plan offers a step-by-step guide to feed your family right, and I encourage you to read through it now. You need to first educate yourself about proper nutrition and the dangers of junk food and processed foods in order to change the food culture of your entire family. To give your child the best start at life, and help instill healthy habits that will last a lifetime, you must lead by example. Children will simply not know which foods are healthy unless you, as a parent, teach it to them first.