Parents are more likely to buy less healthy food if sports stars promote it, claims a new study.

Researchers said study participants perceived a product as healthier and of higher quality if an athlete was on it; more than half did not read the nutrition facts.

Parents buying junk food contribute to the global obesity epidemic, especially childhood obesity. According to the World Health Organization, in 2010,42 million children were overweight worldwide.

width=200Reporting in the journal Public Health Nutrition, researchers observed 1,500 parents, who had children ages 5 to 12, and gave them a choice between two foods, both low in nutritional value.

The scientists presented the products in a variety of ways, either a plain package with nutrition facts, a package also including nutritional information and nutrition claims - such as High in Calcium - or a package with a celebrity athlete endorsement, saying something like I love this high fiber cereal.

Data showed only 44% of study participants read the nutrition facts that were available on all of the packages. And, parents who ignored the nutrition facts were twice as likely to choose the unhealthy product if it featured a nutrition claim, and nearly two-and-a-half times more likely to pick the unhealthy food if a sports figure endorsed it; even more so if the sports star was making a claim about it.

Researchers say the study highlights that the way nutrition facts are displayed needs to be rethought.

Recently, in an effort to improve consumers' awareness of nutrition information, The Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute unveiled a new voluntary food labeling system called Nutrition Keys, which encourages food producers to display the four most relevant nutrition facts on the front of food packaging, such as fiber and salt content.