Amid post-Olympics calls to review Australia's
sporting performance, a coalition of health agencies has urged the government
to restrict junk food companies from investing in junior sport and instead
assist organisations to find more appropriate sponsors.
Jane Martin, executive manager of the Obesity Policy
Coalition (OPC), said that junk food companies such as McDonald's and Coke had
already made considerable inroads into ‘owning' junior sport via direct
sponsorship and backdoor marketing.
"With companies such as McDonald's, Coke and
Cadbury's sponsoring the biggest sporting event, the Olympics, we have witnessed
the greatest global display of mixed messaging possible. However, this happens on a smaller, local
scale every week in Australian suburbs as these companies use junior sporting
codes and athletes to push their brands.
"It's time for government to step in and break this
unhealthy nexus between junk food and junior sport by calling a time-out and restricting
sponsors whose products are in conflict with a healthy lifestyle.
"The government has previously stepped in to help
adult sports shake off their unhealthy association with tobacco sponsorship and
more recently alcohol sponsorship. It is long overdue that they did the same
for children's sports and their unhealthy association with junk food sponsorship,"
said Ms Martin.
Research has shown that
children are particularly susceptible to the influence of brand sponsorship of
sport with 10 to 11 year-olds reporting they liked to return the favour to
sponsors by buying their products; and that sponsors were 'cool'. Other research has found that children as
young as 3 years old use brand names as cues to determine whether foods are
likely to taste good or be exciting. Almost
three-quarters (71%) of respondents to a Cancer Council Victoria survey of
1,500 Australians agree that junk food companies should be restricted from
sponsoring children's sporting activities.
Martin said calls for greater investment into children's sport as a result of
our Olympic results would be seen as an invitation by junk food brands to
increase their sponsorship reach.
"Increasingly we are seeing unhealthy food companies attempting to buy
themselves a ‘healthy halo' by associating their brand with junior sport. It is
a marketing strategy pure and simple, not an altruistic interest in funding
"At the moment the door is wide open for these brands
to use children as mobile billboards and brand ambassadors, if the government restricted
these sponsorship deals it would close the door on unhealthy food and open another
to a generation of healthier kids," said Ms Martin.
Examples of unhealthy junior sport
Pack is a football skills development program for children operated by
McDonald's, in partnership with the MCG and a number of well-known AFL players
referred to as "Mac Pack ambassadors". The Mac Pack ambassadors provide
coaching sessions and tips to junior footballers, while wearing, and proving
children with, McDonald's branded clothing. McDonald's brand marketing also
surrounds training sessions, i.e. through banners and other promotional
McDonalds sponsors junior basketball, involving
pre-school and primary school aged children. The Hooptime tournament competition
reached more than 520 Victorian schools and more than 33,000 children
Milo in2cricket is a fun way for kids to learn how to play cricket. It incorporates all
junior development programs in clubs, schools and the community.
About the Obesity Policy Coalition
Obesity Policy Coalition is a group of leading public health agencies who are
concerned about the escalating levels of overweight and obesity, particularly
The Obesity Policy Coalition partners include Diabetes
Australia - Vic, Cancer Council Victoria, Victorian Health Promotion Foundation
(VicHealth) and the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Obesity
Prevention at Deakin University.