Ready for that Jelly?

Beyoncé’s Pepsi contract and childhood obesity

Published on February 13, 2013by Abdul El-Sayed

Beyoncé is just about the freshest celebrity around right now. Following her knock-out rendition of the Star-spangled Banner at President Obama’s inauguration last month and her show-stealing Super Bowl half-time performance, her stock couldn’t be higher.

But rather than use her star-power for good, Beyoncé’s chosen instead to use it to sell sugar to kids.

Having recently signed a $50 million contract with Pepsi, Beyoncé is just the most recent in a line of role model celebrities that have chosen to support an industry that we know is contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic. After all, nearly 25 percent of American kids are overweight, and more than one in six is obese. That number is three times higher than it was in 1980.

Advertising is a big part of the problem—so when a mega-star like Beyoncé chooses to support a brand like Pepsi, she is directly contributing to the growing number of obese children in the US. And as a country, we’re not ready for that jelly.

What’s so perplexing—and disturbing—is that Beyoncé was once a part of the solution. She was chosen by Michelle Obama as a spokesperson for her “Let’s Move!” campaign, an anti-obesity program to promote healthy eating and physical activity among children. In the program’s promotional video, the singer explains: “It’s all about promoting the benefits of healthy eating and exercise…” She even created a music video for the program, which has been distributed to students at middle schools around the country.

By signing with Pepsi, Beyoncé is sending mixed signals to American kids, which is the worst part. Kids are impressionable—that’s why Beyoncé was enlisted by the First Lady to represent the anti-obesity campaign to begin with, and also why Pepsi signed her to support their product. When they see the same Beyoncé who just told them about the benefits of healthy eating pushing a shopping cart full of Pepsi, what are they to think? I, for one, am certainly confused.

A thought experiment may be illuminating in this regard. Think about this: What if Beyoncé were actually drinking all of the Pepsi the advertisers make it look like she does? I presume she would look quite a bit different, certainly without the svelte, toned physique that has become part of her calling card.

This thought experiment should illustrate just how dangerous Beyoncé’s support for Pepsi actually is—it associates the sugary beverage with the glamour and beauty of a pop-icon while withholding the actual implications of consuming it. It has a remarkably similar feel to advertising campaigns for tobacco decades ago, which sought to associate smoking with desirable images of beauty and sophistication.

Like LeBron James, I kindly request that Beyoncé reconsider her contract with Pepsi.

Along with her husband, Sean “Jay-Z” Carter, Beyoncé’s estimated net worth (before she signed with Pepsi) was $775 million. With nearly a billion in the bank, is another $50 million really worth the indignity of going back on a commitment to children’s health?

What’s more, with the recent birth of her child, as a new mother, Beyoncé should understand the difficult circumstances in which she’s putting parents all over the country as she contributes to their children’s ill-health.

Finally, this is an opportunity for her to extend her tremendous leadership capacity beyond entertainment into something that really matters. By taking a public stand against the beverage industry, Beyoncé’s courage could inspire other stars to do the same—and signal to our kids that the products that Pepsi and others produce are to be rejected, not supported.

Edited by Karestan Koenen. Additional research by Josh Brooks.