Face Off: should celebrities advertise fast food?

Face Off: should celebrities advertise fast food?

Each week, two of our readers will debate a hot topic in a parliamentary-style debate that doesn't necessarily reflect their personal viewpoint. This week's topic is ...

Rai Anna-L, 18, University of Hong Kong

It might seem that banning adverts for fast food featuring celebrities makes sense. After all, most of us are aware of the health problems related to eating fast food. But that’s exactly why celebrity endorsements of fast food don’t need to be banned.

Fast food restaurants, such as KFC, McDonald’s and Cafe de Coral, are already influential. Advertisements only play a secondary role, and having one celebrity endorse them won’t affect people’s choice of restaurants. Rather, people will be swayed by food quality, service, and price.

Celebrities have been criticised for advertising fast food, and they have even been blamed for the rise in child obesity. While it’s true that idols endorsing fast food may encourage young people to eat it, star power is only one of the many variables affecting this decision. In most cases, the deciding factor is the socio-economic status of a person. Evidence shows that children from low-income families are more likely to suffer from obesity. They will eat fast food regardless of whether their favourite celebrities are supporting the brand.

Eating fast food is also a habit, and one that is difficult to break, irrespective of whether celebrities endorse such meals. In 2007, tobacco advertisements were banned from Hong Kong’s print media. But many people continue to smoke anyway. Just because something isn’t advertised or promoted doesn’t mean people won’t buy it.

Advertising is also one of the ways celebrities earn money. Endorsements provide a platform for emerging celebrities to reach a wider audience. It seems unfair to take this opportunity away from them. Particularly because even without their backing, fast food companies will continue to advertise, and people will still eat fast food.

The reality is that celebrity endorsements don’t have a lot of influence over the food people eat, as price, food quality, socio-economic status, habit and other factors all play a more significant role. Therefore, banning fast food endorsements by celebrities seems unnecessary.

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Helen Wong, 16, Dallam School, Britain

It is hard to believe that icons ranging from Beyonce and Taylor Swift to David Beckham and Kobe Bryant are involved in the junk food advertising epidemic. Celebrities endorsing fast food has got out of hand and this needs to stop.

The marketing of junk food is bad, especially for young people, who are easily swayed by their idols. Advertising agencies have spent billions of dollars on psychological research – they know how to push people’s buttons and they create their ads so that most people don’t even realise they have been influenced by them.

Companies even manage to associate junk food with sports. It is one thing to have pop stars promoting such questionable products. It is entirely another matter for star athletes – who are supremely fit and healthy – to endorse them. This makes you believe that eating junk food can turn you into who they are – strong, inspiring and cool. But in reality, such foods simply make you unhealthy.

Many young people buy products promoted by their role models. Eating too much junk food has been linked to a rise in obesity, which can lead to illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Celebrity endorsement of fast food is wrong and sends the message, particularly to vulnerable teens, that junk food is okay. Not only does this pose a menace to public health, it also gives the public a poor impression of the celebrities. Basketball superstar Bryant earned an estimated US$12 million a year from his contract with McDonald’s. He must know that McDonald’s isn’t good for you.

If celebrities know that junk food is bad for us and still choose to promote it, they must only be doing it for the publicity and the money.

As public figures and role models, celebrities shoulder great social responsibility. It is high time both the fast food industry and celebrities acted more responsibly and said goodbye to junk food adverts featuring pop stars or sports icons.


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