Junk Food and Sports Sponsorship: Give sugar the red card!

Junk Food and Sports Sponsorship: Give sugar the red card!

Our sister organisation, Healthy Stadia, has joined forces with SUGAR SMART – a campaign led by the food charity Sustain and supported by Jamie Oliver – inviting stakeholders from all fields (sport, fan groups, parents, schools, public health, and academics) to take action in protecting children from the high amounts of exposure to foods and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS), that are promoted through football in the UK.

The Problem
Childhood obesity is at an all-time high, so it is with significant concern that we see the UK’s football associations, leagues and some football clubs continuing to partner with companies that are known for producing HFSS products. By linking themselves to sports bodies, these companies are attempting to associate their products with a healthy and active lifestyle, but in reality, many of their products contain high amounts of saturated fat, sugar and/or salt. For example, a standard 330 ml sugary drink contains approximately 35g of sugar (nearly 9 teaspoons), exceeding the maximum recommended daily amount of free sugars for both children and adults.

The overconsumption of HFSS products contributes to high levels of childhood obesity and tooth decay, and our children are paying the price of this irresponsible marketing:

  • Nearly 43,000 under-18s were admitted to hospital for multiple teeth extraction in England in 2016/17, mostly due to rotten teeth associated with sugar consumption.
  • Almost 1 in 4 children are above a healthy weight when they start primary school, rising to more than 1 in 3 by the time they leave primary school. This is predicted to increase to half of children by 2020 if we don’t take drastic action.


Mixed Messages

There is some excellent work being undertaken by the community functions of UK leagues and clubs to increase levels of physical activity and educate children on the importance of healthier eating and active lifestyles, and for this they should be applauded. However, sponsorship with HFSS brands and the resulting mixed messages do much to undermine this good work, whilst consumption of many HFSS products such as sugary drinks, crisps and confectionary is not simply a treat for many children, but a daily staple.

It is worth noting that the calorie content in a standard chocolate bar is the equivalent to the calories expended by a 14 year old boy walking the length of a football pitch 97 times. In addition, no amount of physical exercise will mitigate the damaging oral health effects of sugary products. Food for thought indeed.

Taking Action
Healthy Stadia and SUGAR SMART are asking football associations, leagues and clubs not to enter into new partnership deals with HFSS brands as a commitment to protect children’s health, in particular partnerships with energy drinks brands, and high sugar ‘sports drinks’ brands. As the highest participation team sport in the country, it’s time football protects children against the marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks and re-thinks its commercial partnerships to address the state of our children’s health. This progressive stance is already being undertaken by Millwall FC, Charlton Athletic, Bristol City FC, Plymouth Argyle FC, Bath City FC and Exeter City FC as clubs who have signed up to the SUGAR SMART campaign, with more in the way this year.

To start the ball rolling, Healthy Stadia and SUGAR SMART have already had support for an open letter to National Associations, League Operators and Clubs from over 50 experts in the field, including obesity research, public health nutrition, dentistry and behavioural psychology – download the open letter and list of signatories here.


How Can You Support

A public-facing e-action asking football associations, leagues and football clubs to drop junk food company sponsorships is now live! Healthy Stadia and SUGAR SMART are asking the public to participate in the e-action to send this important message and plan to promote it through your networks, as well as on social media.

The e-action will be live during one month until end of April and available at: https://www.sustainweb.org/poll/sugar/


What can you do as an organisation or individual?

  1. Take the e-action yourself.
  1. Add it to your newsletter or other communications with your networks. Here is some sample text:

Please join us in asking major football associations, leagues and football clubs to re-think their commercial partnerships with junk food companies and protect children against the marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks. Major football associations, leagues and one in four clubs in the Premier League have partnerships with junk food companies. This sends the wrong message at a time when obesity and tooth decay among children are at an all-time high.

As the highest participation team sport in the country, football should set an example for healthy and active lifestyles and not undermine this with junk food sponsorships. Help us get this message to football: https://www.sustainweb.org/poll/sugar/

  1. Share the action on your social media channels: Use the info graphics above and below, and use the tags #HealthyStadia and #SUGARSMART and handles @healthystadia and @sugarsmartuk

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