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Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Headshot

Why I Won't Listen to Beyonce

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Today and again in two weeks all eyes will be on Beyonce Knowles as she performs at the inauguration and Super Bowl. As someone who has music from every solo album Beyonce has ever recorded, I can say that I have been a long time fan. So I never thought I would be giving people -- especially children and communities of color -- this piece of advice: do not listen to Beyonce.

You would have to be living in a bubble to have missed the news that Beyonce cut a reported $50 million, multi-year deal with PepsiCo. Although the deal may meet Beyonce's and Pepsi's mutually-beneficial marketing needs, it does not serve the best interests of the U.S. public, which is in the midst of working to combat an obesity epidemic.

While the marketing tactics of soda companies are not new -- after all, Beyonce, Sofia Vergara and so many other superstars past and present have been used by soda companies to encourage people to consume unhealthy beverages for decades -- what is new is that this deal comes during a time of increased public concern about the role that sugar-sweetened beverages play in contributing to weight gain.

Researchers have determined that 43 percent of the increase in daily calories that Americans consumed between 1977 and 2001, a time period during which obesity almost tripled among segments of the U.S. population -- could be attributed to sugar-sweetened beverages. Scientists have also estimated that every additional daily serving of soda consumed by a child increases their risk for obesity by 60 percent.

And, it is widely known that obesity is related to preventable chronic diseases -- such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and kidney disease -- that not only undermine the quality and length of a person's life but also help to drive America's skyrocketing health care costs. It is not an accident that these diseases disproportionately affect African Americans and Latinos, groups that drink more soda and are the targets of heavy marketing by soda companies.

In her defense, Beyonce probably believes that people can decide for themselves whether to drink soda. However, a study shows that while children were able to tell that advertisers were trying to sell them products by the age of eight, most youth were still unable to discern how advertisements persuaded them to consume junk food products even by the age of twelve; suggesting that young audiences are extremely vulnerable to the lure of celebrity marketing.

This is likely especially true for African-American girls, who have higher rates of overweight and obesity than any other group of youths and a 49 percent risk of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in their lifetimes. Plagued by body image issues and in desperate search of role models to emulate, black girls may be especially inclined to purchase and consume a can of Pepsi with Beyonce's beautiful image emblazoned on the side.

These young girls need to know that if they drink Pepsi, or any other sugar-sweetened beverage for that matter, on a daily basis they will look nothing like the physically fit pop star; unless, of course, they are paying strict attention to other aspects of their diet and burning off a significant amount of calories in daily physical activity.

Lest I be labeled a "hater," I should be clear that I'm not suggesting boycotting Beyonce's music but I am arguing that it's in our collective best interest to tune out her Pepsi endorsements for the sake of our children and our lives.

Dr. Maya Rockeymoore is President and CEO of Global Policy Solutions, a consulting firm in Washington, DC dedicated to making policy work for people and their environments.

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