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Celebrity Endorsement Prompts Kids to Eat More Junk Food

Update Date: Mar 08, 2013 11:10 AM EST

Remember this ad of Paris Hilton eating a gigantic burger as she washes a car wearing a skimpy black bathing suit? According to a new study, the kids definitely remember, and they probably think of Carl's Jr. burgers everytime they see Paris on TV or in a magazine.

Researchers at the University of Liverpool in UK found that celebrity endorsement of a food product encourages children to eat more of the endorsed product.

What's more, researchers found that children ate even more of the endorsed product when they say the celebrity on TV in a different context.

Celebrity endorsements have long been used to convince consumers to buy products.  It's an effective method of creating value, recognition and credibility for a brand and famous television and sport stars are frequently used in television commercials to convince children to try foods.

The latest study consisted of 181 children between the ages of 8 and 11.  The children were asked to watch one of three different advertisements or general TV footage featuring Gary Lineker as the main presenter.  The clips were embedded within a 20-minute cartoon.  One of the advertisements was for Walker's potato chips and featured international soccer player Gary Lineker as the celebrity endorser. The other two ads in the study featured a different snack food or a toy product.

The children were then offered two bowls of chips to eat.  One of the bowls was labeled "Walkers" and another was labeled "Supermarket".  Even though both bowls actually contained Walker's potato chips, researchers found that children who watched the Walker's potato chip commercial featuring Gary Lineker or the general TV footage with Lineker as the main presenter ate significantly more chips from the Walker's bowl than children who watched the other snack food commercial or the toy commercial.

"This is the first study to show the powerful effects of celebrity endorsement - in both a TV advertising and a non-food context - on the choice and intake of the endorsed snack product over the same product offered as a non-branded snack item," researcher Dr. Emma Boyland, from the Institute of Psychology, Health and Society said in a statement.

"The study demonstrated, for the first time, that the influence of the celebrity extended even further than expected and prompted the children to eat the endorsed product even when they saw the celebrity outside of any actual promotion for the brand. It quantifies the significant influence that the celebrity has over children's brand preferences and actual consumption," she said.

"This research has consequences for the use of celebrities, and in particular sports stars, in advertising unhealthy or High Fat Salt and Sugar (HFSS) products. If celebrity endorsement of HFSS products continues and their appearance in other contexts prompts unhealthy food intake then this would mean that the more prominent the celebrity the more detrimental the effects on children's diets," Boyland concluded.

The findings are published in The Journal of Pediatrics.

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