Childhood obesity rates in the United States have more than doubled in the last three decades.

Now, new research suggests that the increase may have been influenced in part by the fact that many of the music stars that teens and kids idolize endorse unhealthy junk food and beverages.

Experts from the New York University (NYU) School of Medicine looked into 590 product endorsements by 163 celebrities who appeared on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart in 2013 and 2014, which ranked songs according to radio play and sales.

Although consumer goods comprised the biggest share of endorsements for these stars, researchers focused on wellness-related advertisements of approximately 65 music celebrities. Fifty-three of them were nominated for a Teen Choice award at least once, which indicates their popularity.

Some of the stars included in the research were Beyoncé and Katy Perry, who had endorsement agreements with Pepsi; Justin Timberlake, who was involved with McDonald's; and Snoop Dogg, who was affiliated with Hot Pockets.

All of the music stars promoted unhealthy snacks and beverages, comprising 18 percent of the endorsements. None endorsed fruits and vegetables.

In fact, more than two-thirds or 71 percent of the nonalcoholic drink promotions from pop stars feature sugary drinks and sodas. More than four-fifths or 81 percent of the snacks contained a lot of calories and little nutrients.

Marie Bragg, lead author of the study, says the findings were concerning, especially given that one-third of teenagers are obese or overweight.

Bragg says compared with adults, teenagers are also less likely capable of resisting the urge to buy products they see on screen. Their music idol endorsing the product would contribute even more to their reason to buy it.

She says adolescents are in the stage where they try to associate themselves with celebrities and brands to help them define their identity. These youngsters may respond more positively to celebrity endorsements than adults do.

With that, Bragg says more protection is needed for teenagers.

"We know they are a prime target given their spending power," Bragg told The Washington Post.

Bragg says they hope that the findings begin a discourse about shifting the marketing away from unhealthy products.

Details of the study are published in the journal Pediatrics. The study is limited as researchers did not have complete data on every celebrity endorsement as well as teen viewership. Further investigation must also be made to understand how much endorsements influence kids' and teens' choices.

Photo: Dan DeLuca | Flickr

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