Friday, 17 February 2017

How big food and drink are using sport

Guest post by Robin Ireland, Director of Research, Food Active and Healthy Stadia

You don't have to do much travelling to realise that the unhealthy alliance between sport and the Food and Drink Industry isn't only an issue in the UK.

I am lucky enough to be visiting New Zealand and Australia at the moment and it's easy to see all the same signs - and very similar marketing campaigns and messaging. Whether it's the All Blacks rugby team being pictured with the product of their "Official Hydration Partner", Gatorade, or the recent Australian Tennis Open full of alcohol advertisements (and I haven't even mentioned cricket), it's clear that the Food and Drink Industry have an international agenda.

Advertising featuring the All Blacks rugby team photographed in New Zealand

In January, the British Medical Journal published an editorial (Ireland and Ashton 2017)1 that I wrote (with Professor John Ashton CBE) about how Coca-Cola's publicity machine was subverting the Christmas message.

If anything, it's even more blatant in sport and we have been aware of it for some time from London's "Obesity Games" (Garde and Rigby 2012)2 to Rio's promotion of ultra-processed foods (Loughborough University)3. Even when spectators want healthier food, this choice is rarely made available to them.

George Monbiot recently referred to "Dark Money" (Monbiot 2017)4 which describes the funding of organisations involved in political advocacy that are not obliged to disclose where the money comes from. In public health terms, we may describe this as Commercial Determinants of Health where industry interests impact on our health. It is often linked to the increasingly sophisticated Corporate Social Responsibility policies being adopted by big corporations.

The latest of these is of course the deal just announced by the English Premier League and Cadburys criticised by the Obesity Health Alliance in a letter to The Times (Obesity Health Alliance 2017)5. Cadburys no doubt will argue that they are taking an ethical position to help educate people. But can we really take a chocolate company seriously that wishes to advise schoolchildren on nutrition, healthy eating and exercise?


FC Bayern M√ľnchen's branded energy drink
It is no coincidence that the mantra parroted by food and drink sponsors is that our diets are down to individual choice and that if we simply took more exercise we wouldn't be having the obesity epidemic now prevalent worldwide. This is rubbish. So called energy and sports drinks should have no part to play in the diet of the average member of the public. Kids do not need more sugar (or more protein for that matter) if they are eating a balanced diet with lots of fruit and veg. But of course the food and drink industry do not make their enormous profits in this way.

It is these concerns - amongst many others - that encouraged myself and colleagues to establish Healthy Stadia in 2005, of which I am a Director. Healthy Stadia takes a holistic and integrated approach to developing sports stadia and clubs as "health promoting settings":
"Healthy Stadia are those which promote the health of visitors, fans, players, employees and the surrounding community" (from Healthy Stadia website)6.

Healthy Stadia's Conference which will be held at the Emirates Stadium, London, in April will be discussing food and drink sponsorship in professional sport among other issues. I anticipate that these topics will come under increasing public scrutiny in years to come, as we develop more awareness of the impact that marketing has on our food and drink choices. (Cairns et al., 2013)7.

Sports fans and public health professionals alike should be questioning how 'Our Beautiful Games' are being manipulated by the Food and Drink Industry to promote ultra-processed food and drink - including alcohol - to audiences, often well populated by impressionable youngsters. Let's see if we can link up the campaigns in different countries to make a louder voice demanding change from the governing bodies of sport.
References:
  1. Ireland R and Ashton John R. (2017). Happy corporate holidays from Coca-Cola. BMJ 2017;356:i6833. http://www.bmj.com/content/356/bmj.i6833. 10 January 2017.
  2. Garde A and Rigby N. (2012). Going for gold – should responsible governments raise the bar on sponsorship of the Olympic games and other sporting events by food and beverage companies? Commun Law. 2012:356:42-9.
  3. Loughborough University Press Release (2016). Loughborough research calls for change in spectator food and drink provision at sports mega events such as Rio 2016. PR/16/158. http://www.lboro.ac.uk/media-centre/press-releases/2016/december/loughborough-research-calls-for-change-in-spectator-food-and-drink-provision-at-.html. 05 December 2016.
  4. Monbiot G. How corporate dark money is taking power on both sides of the Atlantic. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/02/corporate-dark-money-power-atlantic-lobbyists-brexit. 02 February 2017.
  5. Obesity Health Alliance (2017). Letter to The Times – Cadbury and Premier League Sponsorship. Accessed online at: http://obesityhealthalliance.org.uk/2017/02/06/letter-times-cadbury-premier-league-sponsorship/?utm_campaign=Cadbury%20letter. 06 February 2017.
  6. European Healthy Stadia Network. http://www.healthystadia.eu/about.html
  7. Cairns G, Angus K, Hastings, G and Caraher M (2013). Systematic reviews of the evidence on the nature, extent and effects of food marketing to children. A retrospective summary. Appetite 2013: 356:209-15. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666312001511. 03 March 2013.
All views expressed are exclusively those of the author.

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