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UK’s Food and Drink Federation are target of global backlash against Rio Olympics's “carnival of junk food marketing”

Public health experts from 5 continents strongly criticise comments made by the head of the Food and Drink Federation, that non-western countries have “no problem" with Coca Cola and McDonald’s sponsorship of the Olympics.

Public health campaigners and nutrition experts from across the globe have issued a strong rebuke to the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) – the trade body for the UK food industry. Representatives from organisations and institutions at the forefront of tackling diet-related diseases in Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Malaysia, Nepal, Bangladesh, South Africa, New Zealand, US and the UK have come together to refute the ill-informed and patronising claims made this week by the FDFs Director General, Ian Wright, that junk food marketing, and, specifically that associated with the Olympics, is a purely “Western and metropolitan” concern, and that “Asian and Latin American countries have no problem” with it.  

Dr Fabio Gomes, a Brazilian public health nutritionist and Pan-American Health Organisation / World Health Organisation Regional Advisor on Nutrition responded:

“The Food and Drink Federation’s statement is outrageous, and wrong. If these companies did indeed act responsibly they would not advertise to children [i]; they would not send their licensed clowns to Brazilian schools to hook children on their brands and products [ii]; and they would not promote sugary drinks and energy-dense products that are not recommended by Brazil’s official food based dietary guidelines.” [iii]

Alejandro Calvillo Unna, spokesperson for Mexican NGO El Poder del Consumidor (Consumer Power), said:

"We find the UK Food and Drink Federation’s comments to be offensive. In Latin America, these two companies - Coca-Cola and McDonalds - represent one of the main vectors of the obesity and diabetes epidemic in our region. They deny the scientific evidence about the harm their products generate, they manipulate children, use misleading advertising, and invest millions of dollars in lobbying to impede the development of policy measures in countries that are working to combat obesity and chronic disease."

Tilakavati Karupaiah PhD, Associate Professor, Faculty of Health Sciences, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia/National Univ. of Malaysia, said:

"Our own and our Government’s efforts to continue to get important health messages across are threatened by the millions of dollars spent on marketing campaigns for junk food and sugary drinks.”

Malcolm Clark, co-ordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign, and author of The Obesity Games – an expose of the extent of junk food marketing associated with the London2012 Games, said:

“We know first hand from London2012 what a carnival of junk food marketing the Olympics are. And we are seeing it again this time: with almost all Kellogg’s Games-related marketing currently promoting high sugar, less healthy products; with Coca Cola’s global #thatsgold ad giving twice as much screen time to red, full sugar Coke as to Coke Life and Coke Zero Sugar combined; and with the emergence of limited edition Brazilian flag coloured M&Ms and other sugary products which associate themselves with the Games.  Only Aldi supermarket’s advertising campaign, with its focus on British produce, including fresh fruit and vegetables, seems to buck the trend and promote demonstrably healthier products.”

“Today, as the Rio2016 Olympics begin, we stand in solidarity with public health counterparts in Brazil, and throughout the world, as they seek to counter the effects of the many millions of pounds spent by companies promoting sugary drinks and calorie-dense, highly processed food to families during this period. As their angry responses to the UK’s Food and Drink Federation makes clear, countries in Latin America and Asia take the health impact of junk food marketing as seriously as everywhere else.”

“Ian Wright, head of the Food and Drink Federation, conveniently forgets that countries such as Mexico, Chile, Brazil, South Korea and Taiwan have been leading the way globally in actions taken by governments to tackle obesity and excess sugar consumption. We are writing to the UK embassies of these countries, to encourage them to seek a formal apology from the Food and Drink Federation, and to invite Ian Wright to meet with them and learn more about their innovative, and effective, policy initiatives – including the sugary drinks tax and robust regulations restricting junk food marketing to children. We also call on the UK Government, as they finalise their long-awaited Childhood Obesity Strategy, to listen more to those expert international voices and not to the vested interests of the food industry lobby.”

Media Contact: For interviews, and for further information, please contact Malcolm Clark, co-ordination, Children’s Food Campaign, on 07733322148 or 0203 5596 777, or via twitter @childrensfood

Further reaction to the Food and Drink Federation’s comments:

Claudio Schuftan MD, paediatrics and international health expert, Vietnam:

“The Olympic sponsorship deals smack of corporations trying desperately to white-wash their image by pretending to be all about healthy eating and exercise, and asking us to forget the cost of their products – the cost to our health, to our health services budget, and to the environment. As a Latin-American , I am offended by the UK Food and Drink Federation thinking they know better than ourselves what we consider problematic. Stop being patronising!”

Chris Burman, University of Limpopo, South Africa (personal capacity):

“If Coca-Cola and McDonald’s are among the world’s most responsible companies, they would be selling fresh food at sensible prices, rather than peddling products that are known to be drivers of a global epidemic. South Africa is now the fattest county in sub-Saharan Africa and the third fattest in the world. So we are anything but relaxed about the influence of companies such as Coca Cola and McDonalds. The South African Government is taking a big step in the right direction by implementing a sugary drinks tax from next year. However, the resources at our disposal are minuscule compared with the influence of the Olympic Games, their sponsors, and the millions of dollars they commit to marketing junk food.” 
Simón Barquera, MD, MS, PhD, National researcher, Member of the Mexican Academy of Medicine and the Mexican Nacional Academy of Sciences:

"Coca Cola are funding questionable research and activity programs in Mexico, Chile, Argentina and Brazil [iv].  They are also part of a 'social responsibility foundation', Fundación Movimiento es Salud, which ignores the contribution of sugar-sweetened beverages to the obesity epidemic [v]. We must export successful polices which improve the food environment (such as the Chilean and Ecuadorian front-of-pack food labelling systems, the Brazilian food guides, and the Mexican soda tax) as soon as possible to other countries[vi]."

Professor Boyd Swinburn, University of Auckland (personal capacity):
“I think Latin American countries and Asian countries are very well aware of the damaging impacts of large trans-national corporations like Coca Cola and McDonald’s, and I am sure they are not relaxed about their influence on occasions like the Olympics.”

Shanta Lal Mulmi, Executive Director, Resource Center for Primary Health Care (RECPHEC) in Nepal: 

"Research performed by RECPHEC shows that ads for junk food specifically target children and youth (using programs that target youth to air their ads). The sheer volume of junk food marketing reaches even the poorest communities who can least afford to suffer diet-related ill-health.  We look to international institutions and platforms - such as the Olympics - to help set a good example, rather than continue to facilitate the worst practices and products."

Saifuddin Ahmed, Executive Director, Work for a Better Bangladesh (WBB) Trust:

"Research in Bangladesh by WBB Trust shows how huge a problem junk food marketing is, in trying to get young people hooked on these products that lead directly to diabetes and other non-communicable disease. We in Bangladesh are very much concerned about these marketing activities."
Tim Lobstein, Policy Director at the World Obesity Federation:

“Child obesity is rising rapidly in developing economies and the last thing the children need are inducements to consume more junk food. The Olympic Games should be a beacon of human progress and ability, not a place where poor nutrition is given a halo of gold."


1)    Food and Drink Federation:
Ian Wright, the Director-General of the Food and Drink Federation, was quoted in an Campaign article about Olympic food and drink sponsorship deals, published on 2 August 2016. His full quote:
“Coca-Cola and McDonald’s are among the world’s most responsible companies. Being involved in the Olympic family and sharing its values allows both sides to benefit from the special value of such relationships. You only have to look at Johnnie Walker’s sponsorship of the McLaren Formula One team to see that it has not only been very successful but has also advanced the cause of responsible drinking. You also have to remember that the source of the controversy is invariably Western and metropolitan. Asian and Latin American countries have no problem with companies that behave responsibly".  (Campaign)

2)    Kellogg’s:
Kellogg’s is a TeamGB official sponsor.  Kellogg’s Olympics marketing campaign is on the theme of "Great Starts".  Their promotional website and materials state “Kellogg's, we're here to give you #GreatStarts to your days. Whether you choose a delicious, nutritious bowl of cereal or a handy snack later, the right option can help you reach your full potential."  
However, many of their print and online adverts predominately feature cereals and other products which are defined as ‘less healthy’ and/or high in sugar.  The same is true for the products and promotions featured on the webpage  
As recorded on 27 July 2016, on listed in a special ‘online promotions’ box on that page there were 46 different promotions, for 25 different products. Of those:
•    22/25 products (88%) and 43/36 promotions (93%) were for 'less healthy' - ie HFSS - products - as defined under the FSA/Ofcom nutrient profiling model.
•    23/25 products (92%) and 44/46 promotions (96%) were  'High in Sugar' and would be red for sugar under the colour-coded front of pack nutrition labelling
The full list of products and how many times they appeared:
Crunchy nut cereal 4
Frosties cereal bears 3  
Corn Flakes cereal 1 [non red tl + non-HFSS]  
Coco Pops Croc Shapes cereal 1 [non-HFSS]  
Frosties cereal 2  
Rice Kripsies cereal bars 3  
Nutri-grain apple bars 3
Squares bars (marshmallow) 2
Crunchy nut choc clusters cereal 2
Crunchy nut honey clusters cereal 2
Crunchy nut raisin & choc bars 1
Crunchy nut choc & peanut bars 1
Coco Pops cereal bars 3  
Krave choco roulette cereal 1  
Coco Pops cereal 4  
Coco Pops coco rocks cereal 1  
Krave milk chocolate cereal 2
Krave choc hazelnut cereal 1
Nutrigrain blueberry bars 1
Nutrigrain blackcurrant & apple bars 1
Nutrigrain strawberry bars 1
Rice Krispies cereal 1 [non red tl + non-HFSS]  
Squares totally chocolate cereal 2
Squares choc caramel cereal 2
Start multigrain cereal 1
NB products are both HFSS and red traffic light for sugar unless indicated otherwise
Children’s Food Campaign has also submitted a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority about  unsubstantiated general health claims and misleading use of the term 'nutritious' on Kellogg’s Olympics promotional websites and We await the ASA’s investigation into that complaint. 
3)    Coca Cola
Coca Cola freely admit that their Olympic marketing targets 13-16 year olds.  They say: “Our digital efforts aim to engage teens in what’s happening beyond what they see on TV and bring them into the Rio 2016 experience."  (Campaign)
Coca Cola’s Gold Actions advert is a major part of its That’s Gold Rio2016 marketing campaign.
The video lasts 1 minute. Of that time: images of red, full-sugar Coca Cola feature for 14 seconds of screen time; medium-sugar Coke Life for 4 seconds; and no sugar Coke Zero Sugar for 3 seconds.  Thus the full sugar Coke gets twice as much screen time as the other versions combined.  This also excludes any generic red Coca Cola branding. 
Ad breakdown – including time within advert and duration Coke bottle appears on screen:

14 secs in = Red Coke (1 sec)
16 secs in = Red Coke held by USA athlete (3 secs)
27 secs in = Coke Zero, Coke Life and Red Coke all shown together (2 secs each)
42 secs in = Red Coke (1 sec)
47 secs in = Red Coke (2 secs)
51 secs in = Red Coke held by dancing spectator (1 sec)
52 secs in = Coke Life shared by athletes (2 secs)
54 secs in = Coke Zero being drunk (1 sec)
55 secs in = Red Coke being held and drunk (4 secs)
4)    McDonald’s 
For McDonald’s, children are a central part of their Rio2016 "Friendship" marketing strategy, including bringing 100 children from around the world to Brazil to take part in the opening ceremony on 5 August.  (Campaign)
5)    M&Ms
Mars Chocolate has launched launch new, limited edition M&M’s Rio Colourmix, ahead of the Olympic Games in Brazil. (Talking Retail)
6)    Aldi
Aldi is the first Official Supermarket Partner to Team GB. The Aldi advertChampioning Great Britain’ almost exclusively features fresh fruit and vegetables. There are no HFSS or processed products featured at all.
7) Obesity Games report
In July 2012, Children’s Food Campaign published a report on the London2012 Olympics: The Obesity Games: the inside track on the marketing strategies of Olympic food and soft drink sponsors,  and the sponsorship deals behind them. The Obesity Games report revealed the Olympic-related marketing tactics of Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Cadbury’s.
Recommendations for future Olympics and major supporting events included: 
•    An Olympic Exclusion Order - the exclusion of junk food brands from sponsoring sporting events.
•    A ‘5-a-day’ sponsorship category - for companies or brands that are healthier across their range.
•    The introduction of robust healthy eating standards
•    Tightening up existing marketing regulations 
8)   Children’s Food Campaign

The Campaign aims to improve children and young people's health by campaigning for policy changes in our schools, in our communities and throughout our society that would promote healthy and sustainable food environments. The Children's Food Campaign is supported by over 100 UK-wide and national organisations, including public health professional bodies, trade unions, school food experts, children’s charities and environmental groups. We are a campaign of the charity Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming.
9)   Obesity Health Alliance
The Children's Food Campaign is also a member of the Obesity Health Alliance (OHA) - a coalition of over 30 organisations committed to share expertise and support Government to tackle the issue of overweight and obesity in the UK.

Published Friday 5 August 2016

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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