Celebrity endorsements of junk foods like chips, sweets and sugary drinks have a significant impact on kids' eating habits, says a team of researchers out of the UK who found that star-powered ads prompted kids to tuck into more of the endorsed product.
For their study, researchers from the University of Liverpool presented 181 children aged 8 to 11 with a 20-minute cartoon that was embedded with one of three different ads - one for Walkers potato chips, endorsed by a former British soccer star turned sports broadcaster Gary Lineker; another for a different snack food, with no celebrity endorsement; and a toy ad -- or general TV footage, also presented by Lineker.
The kids were then offered two bowls of chips labeled either Walkers or Supermarket. Both bowls, however, contained the Walkers brand.
The results of the study showed that kids who had just seen footage with Lineker - either his Walkers ad or his general TV show -- ate considerably more chips labeled Walkers than the children who were presented with one of the two celebrity-less ads.
"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," said lead researcher Emma Boyland in a statement.
"It quantifies the significant influence that the celebrity has over children's brand preferences and actual consumption."
Lineker has come under fire before for serving as the spokesman for Walkers chips, an endorsement he's been peddling since 1995.
Last year, celebrity chef and healthy eating crusader Jamie Oliver came out swinging against the sports broadcaster along with David Beckham, who shills for Pepsi, on the eve of the London Olympics, signing his name to a petition that lambasted celebrity athletes who promote junk food in exchange for lucrative endorsement deals.
Meanwhile, a slew of studies shows that one of the best ways for parents to prevent kids from eating junk food is to lead by example and follow a healthy diet themselves. Getting kids into the kitchen and letting them cook has also been shown to help develop healthier eating habits early.
"If celebrity endorsement of high fat, salt and sugar 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 added.