A University of Liverpool study contends that “celebrity endorsement of a food product encourages children to eat more of the endorsed product.” The study’s authors also assert that children were prompted to eat more of the endorsed product when they saw the TV celebrity in a different context.

The study involved 181 children, ages 8 through 11, some of whom were asked to watch a 20-minute cartoon that included one of three different commercials: one for a particular brand of potato chips endorsed by former soccer star Gary Lineker; one for a different snack food; and one for a toy. Another group of children viewed TV footage of Lineker at an event not related to the snack food. The ads included one for Walker’s potato chips featuring the soccer hero; a promo for a snack food with no celebrity endorsement; and a commercial for a toy, also without a celebrity endorsement. During the experiment, kids were offered two bowls of potato chips. One was labeled Walker’s chips, the other, “supermarket” chips. Both bowls, however, contained Walker’s chips. The study purportedly showed that the children who had watched the commercial with Lineker ate more of the chips labeled with the brand name compared with the kids who watched a commercial for a different food, and those who watched the toy commercial.

“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. 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,” lead researcher Emma Boyland said.