THE BLOG
11/11/2013 09:18 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Could 'America's Sweetheart' Be the Gateway to Kids' Consumption of Diet Sodas?

As the discussion continues to intensify on celebrities and athletes starring in food and beverage advertisements, some of the most instantly-recognizable celebrities are being called into question. From LeBron James to Beyoncé to Katy Perry, celebrities and athletes are being criticized for lending their fame to promote products, as stated by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity study, that are, "energy dense, high in sugar and nutrient poor." However, there is one name that I believe has been lost in this conversation, a celebrity whose impact might be the most damaging of them all: Taylor Swift.

What has lead me to this conclusion? According to a recent qualitative study by the WAT-AAH! Foundation and Fit Kids, Taylor Swift's endorsement of Diet Coke may be a gateway to kids' consumption of diet sodas and the beginning of a relationship with the Coca-Cola brand. The purpose of the study is to understand the overall impact of commercials featuring sports and music celebrities specifically in terms of: recall, message takeaway, believability and consumption/purchase interest. Additional information regarding the study is as follows:

• The respondents included 166 children equally divided between boys and girls.
• The respondents ranged from school grades fourth to 11th.
• 59 percent of the participating children watched an average of 2-3 hours of television per day.
• The focus groups took place in: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, New Jersey, New York, Washington, D.C., and Virginia.

The commercials used for the research study featured celebrities such as: Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, LeBron James, Peyton Manning, One Direction, Dwyane Wade, Lionel Messi and others.

The research revealed interesting discoveries: Nine out of 10 kids immediately recalled Taylor Swift's advertisement for Diet Coke when probed to name a commercial they've seen in the past. A majority, 92 percent of the respondents, also said the commercial was intended for a younger audience, with one respondent saying, "I feel like this commercial is meant for kids because Taylor Swift can relate to kids our age, and kids really like her songs."

These findings refute Diet Coke's claims that their advertisements are not reaching younger audiences but are meant for viewers 24 and up. Respondents were not only familiar with Taylor's "Music That Moves" Diet Coke commercial, but when exposed to it they were "excited" and reported to be "inspired" and "motivated" by it.

Moreover, 77 percent of respondents surveyed showed an interest in trying or buying the product. The respondents discussed the ad's impact in terms of its entertainment value and inspiration with one participant saying, "Diet Coke gave Taylor Swift the inspiration to write her song; if I drink it maybe it will inspire me to write too."

Another stated, "We love her music; if Taylor thinks its good for her it must be good for me."

One respondent declared, "If you are a real Taylor Swift fan you will want to try it. She's beautiful, pretty and a great singer. Who wouldn't want to be like her?"

One participant also revealed, "I'm not allowed to drink Diet Coke, but after seeing Taylor in this ad it made me want to drink soda or regular Coke."

These verbatim responses are consistent and exemplify the reactions of the participants in the study.

However, in terms of believability, seven out of 10 kids doubt if Taylor truly stands behind the brand or if she actually consumes Diet Coke on a regular basis. Their purchase interest drops down significantly to 23 percent after a discussion on the unhealthy effects of diet sodas. Many of them cited diet sodas as having "acid," "empty carbs," "fake stuff," "artificial sugars" and "sweeteners" that could lead to serious health problems and they do not believe Taylor Swift, who is, by their account, "pretty," "healthy," and "active," would regularly drink an unhealthy product.

The respondents also expressed concerns that Taylor Swift is endorsing Diet Coke for additional fame and money regardless of the implications to kids' health. These concerns are not to be ignored. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, diet sodas trick your metabolism into thinking sugar is on its way. This causes your body to pump out insulin, the fat storage hormone, which lays down more belly fat. By drinking diet soda, this also confuses and slows your metabolism down, so you burn fewer calories every day. This finding directly challenges the American Beverage Association's claims that diet sodas are "proven to be an effective tool for weight loss and weight management."

Holding the coveted distinction of "America's Sweetheart," Taylor Swift has an uncanny connection to young girls. Her Q score, a metric developed that measures the likability of brands and personalities, rates Taylor Swift at an impressive 24, with the average score for women in her category being a 16. When rated among children ages 6 to 12, her Q score almost doubles, reaching a score of 45. When this is put into context, Taylor Swift has the power to influence kids on an emotional level that can rival any popular celebrity today. Her endorsement of Diet Coke jeopardizes kids' ability to make healthy decisions and could lead to a doorway introducing our kids to the consumption of diet sodas and a relationship with the Coca-Cola brand. We must challenge partnerships such as these and truly take notice as to what these kids are saying. This leads me to one very important question: Knowing the impact that her ads are having on kids and realizing the dangers these diet sodas contain, shouldn't we demand that Taylor Swift reconsider?

The full report for the research study, titled, "Understanding The Impact That Celebrities Endorsements of Unhealthy Products Have On Kids" will be released on Nov. 19, 2013. This study will include detailed findings and verbatims from the kids and teens surveyed on how celebrities such as Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, LeBron James, Peyton Manning, One Direction, Dwyane Wade, Lionel Messi and others impact them.