Elizabeth Velten: Steph Curry breaks another NBA mold, goes soda free

  • Posted on: Jan 4 2016

By Elizabeth Velten - Chair of the Bay Area Nutrition and Physical Activity Collaborative, State Policy Director for the California Center for Public Health Advocacy. 

He's a good guy, a family man with two ridiculously adorable daughters and an ideal role model for young people everywhere. Oakland's favorite son, Stephen Curry, has consistently broken the mold of "typical basketball star."

Now, he's taking a huge step in his seeming quest to re-write the script: endorsing water — not sugary drinks — with an unprecedented health-focused marketing deal with Brita, the home water filter company.

Sugary drinks kill 30,000 Americans each year and are largely responsible for the nation's type 2 diabetes and obesity epidemics, both of which can shave a decade off of a child's life. Yet most sports magnates have willingly taken multi-million dollar endorsement deals with beverage companies looking to target young and impressionable new consumers who look up to athletes as role models.

PepsiCo snagged Michael Jordan and the NFL. Gatorade got Dwight Howard and Derek Jeter. Sprite sealed deals with LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, while Coca-Cola shared the love (and the dollars) with Magic Johnson, Michelle Kwan and Danica Patrick. In a bygone era, Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig endorsed Big Tobacco, inadvertently taking blood money.

Steph is the first in sports history to say no to this shameless marketing scheme and recognize the true impact of these lucrative endorsements. In a public statement, he said, "Drinking water is essential to a healthy lifestyle. Water is my drink." His heart — and his actions — are in exactly the right place.

Over the next three years, he'll be talking about water, not sugary drinks, in national television advertisements and numerous digital, public relations and social media campaigns sponsored by Brita.

Surely, this endorsement deal is going to boost Brita's sales. Great for them. But more importantly, his seal of approval is going to inspire millions of children to choose water — from any source — instead of the standard go-tos: sticky soda, sickly-sweet energy drinks, high-calorie sports drinks and deceptively loaded teas and fruit-flavored waters.

It will also forge a new path for his fellow players and celebrities everywhere. Now others can follow his lead by accepting endorsement deals that are both profitable and good for our children's health. There's plenty of money to go around in bottled waters, water filters, barely sweetened fruit drinks, unsweetened teas and other beverages that are tasty and refreshing.

We should all congratulate Steph for his leadership. But we should also assist him in spreading this new norm by holding other leaders in sports and media accountable, and urging them to be more selective when making endorsement deals.

That's not all we can do. Here in the Bay Area, we can fight for the health of our children by supporting local grassroots efforts to kick our damaging sugary drink habit.

If you're a business owner, you can remove marketing materials that promote sugary drinks. If you're a voter, you can support beverage taxes, warning labels and other initiatives to help make water the easy choice. If you're a parent, you can push your children's school to remove sports drink vending machines and install water fountains and bottle-filling stations.

We all have a role to play in reversing the diabetes and obesity epidemics. Stephen Curry is doing his part. Now we all should do ours.

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This article was first published San Jose Mercury News Online on 12/22/2015.  Elizabeth Velten is chair of the Bay Area Nutrition and Physical Activity Collaborative, whichb represents 250 local health nonprofits and public agencies, and is the state policy director for the California Center for Public Health Advocacy. She wrote this for the Bay Area News Group.