Australian athletes' health behaviours and perceptions of role modelling and marketing of unhealthy products
Issue addressed: This study examined Australian athletes' support for athletes' role in promoting physical activity and obesity prevention, the acceptability of unhealthy products promotion in sport, and their own health behaviours. Methods: Surveys were conducted with (n = 1990) elite and sub-elite athletes recruited from 22 sports across Australia. Athletes' perceptions and behaviours were analysed across demographic and sport-related factors (e.g. individual vs team sport) and correlations calculated between perceptions and health behaviours. Results: Most respondents supported a role for athletes in promoting physical activity and obesity prevention, and disagreed that athletes should promote unhealthy foods and alcohol (73.9%). Athletes reported low smoking rates, but high rates of binge drinking. Female, younger, individual and amateur athletes had more health-positive perceptions and healthier behaviours than older, male, team and professional athletes. More sympathy towards junk food and alcohol advertising in sport and less support for athletes as role models were associated with more unhealthy behaviours. Conclusions: Elite athletes are receptive to supporting health promotion through sport and many are not in agreement with the promotion of unhealthy products in sport or by sports people. Improving elite athletes' health behaviours would benefit not only the individual but also health promotion within elite sport.