Making Future Olympics Healthier
The tremendous success of the London 2012 Games has given renewed focus and optimism to efforts to increase participation in sports and tackle obesity. However, there is a danger that these efforts risk being undermined by a failure to adequately recognise and promote the importance of a healthy diet.
In the run up to and during the Olympic and Paralympic Games, many parents, leading health professionals and civil society organisations raised their concerns over the IOC and London 2012 sponsorship deals with Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Cadbury’s and the impact that these might have on children’s diets.
As our report, The Obesity Games, published on the eve of the Olympics, concluded:
“At every turn, the sponsorship of the Games - from the companies selected, to the terms of the deals agreed, to the way that they were implemented - seems to be set up to make the healthy choice a harder choice. It’s time that the IOC took responsibility for the effect of its sponsorship programme and made the necessary changes."
Obesity Games report
The Obesity Games reveals the Olympic-related marketing tactics of Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Cadbury’s, and how - even before a single medal was awarded - they were already big winners of the Games. The report also criticises the increasing emphasis these companies place on “obesity-offsetting” – funding sports equipment and exercise schemes. This is just seeking to downplay the role diet has in obesity, rather than acknowledging that both increased activity and a healthier diet are vital.
The Obesity Games report finds that corporate sponsorship accounts for less than 10% of the total funding for the London 2012 Games, and junk food sponsors contribute only around 2% of the IOC income. Yet sponsors like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Cadbury’s are given an unrivalled platform to promote their unhealthy brands and products. We conclude that the IOC should set proper conditions on promoting healthy eating in their sponsorship deals, and that junk food brands should be excluded from sponsoring all sporting events.
(i) An Olympic Exclusion Order - the exclusion of junk food brands from sponsoring sporting events.
(ii) A ‘five-a-day’ special sponsorship category - for companies or brands that are healthier across their range.
(iii) The introduction of robust healthy eating standards - for all future Olympics and other major sporting events
(iv) Tightening up existing marketing regulations – to protect children from all forms of junk food marketing.
We’ve found that people’s experiences of the Games and Games-related marketing has increased their desire to see the Olympic movement harness its unique position to promote healthy lifestyles, rather than continue to provide cover for companies which make huge profits from unhealthy food and drink. The concern extends beyond the UK, to the waistlines and health of citizens in 2014 and 2016 Olympic hosts Russia and Brazil, and also those in the emerging markets (both for the Olympics and sponsors) of Africa and Asia.
People have also expressed confusion and disappointment as to why the IOC and LOCOG have not attached more conditions to the sponsorship deals or been so eager to extend these deals, given how comparatively little financially these deals are worth.
Letter to Lord Coe
After the Closing Ceremony, we drafted an open letter to Lord Coe on the sponsorship deals. Over 360 individuals came together to sign this letter to ask Lord Coe to acknowledge concerns over junk food sponsorship and to flag these up in LOCOG’s post-Games evaluation report, and to decision makers. This letter was hand delievered to Lord Coe's office on 13 September 2012.
Glasgow 2014 and beyond
We are widening our campaign focus to include other major sporting events. Already we have planted the first seeds for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. Our call for a junk food ban at those Games made the front page of Scotland on Sunday, and we are in discussions with colleagues north of the border on how best to proceed. Lord Coe's expected new role from 2013 as the chairman of the British Olympic Association will keep him firmly in our sights too!
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Children's Food Campaign: Better food and food teaching for children in schools, and protection of children from junk food marketing are the aims of Sustain's high-profile Children's Food Campaign. We also want clear food labelling that can be understood by everyone, including children.
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