The Food & Drink Federation has clashed with public health campaigners over sponsorship of the Rio Olympics, after health groups described the event as a “carnival of junk food”.
Campaigners from Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Malaysia, Nepal, Bangladesh, South Africa, New Zealand, the US and the UK said it was irresponsible for companies whose products were high in sugar to publicise their products around the Games.
They accused companies of dominating their advertising with full-sugar product varieties, even when healthier versions were available.
They also attacked FDF director general Ian Wright, who recently claimed it was only health groups in the UK that saw anything wrong with sponsorship of sporting events by the likes of as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s.
“We know first-hand from London 2012 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,” said Children’s Food Campaign co-ordinator Malcolm Clark.
“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.”
Wright recently told Campaign magazine that such concerns were purely “Western and metropolitan” and that “Asian and Latin American countries have no problem”.
“Coca-Cola and McDonald’s are among the world’s most responsible companies,” said Wright. “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 1 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.”
However, Dr Fabio Gomes, a Brazilian public health nutritionist and World Health Organization regional advisor on nutrition said: “The Food & Drink Federation’s statement is outrageous, and wrong. If these companies did indeed act responsibly they would not advertise to children; they would not send their licensed clowns to Brazilian schools to hook children on their brands and products; and they would not promote sugary drinks and energy-dense products that are not recommended by Brazil’s official food based dietary guidelines.”
However, Wright said he stood firmly by his comments.
“The recent, ground-breaking McKinsey report ranked the most effective interventions to tackle obesity worldwide - portion control and reformulation of foods came out top, with restrictions on sports sponsorship nowhere on the list,” he argued.
“At a time when public health budgets are shrinking, restricting sports sponsorship from food and drink companies - whether of grassroots sport or international competitions - would result in less physical activity, not more.”