Newspaper article

'The Obesity Olympics': Marketing Junk Food to Kids

Newspaper article

'The Obesity Olympics': Marketing Junk Food to Kids

Article excerpt

Somehow I doubt that the athletes competing in the London Olympics trained on a diet that included regular servings of McDonald's Happy Meals, Coca-Cola soft drinks and Cadbury's chocolate bars.

But that's what our children may think as they're bombarded with ads from these three official Olympic food sponsors over the next two weeks. For, as a public health official told a BBC news reporter earlier this year, research suggests that children perceive junk food to be less unhealthy when it's associated with sporting events.

And the food manufacturers know this. Cadbury's (the games' official "treat" sponsor) has called the Olympics "the biggest sales opportunity of our lifetime." That's not hyperbole. Cadbury's pre- games Willy-Wonka-like "Unwrap Gold" promotion was the most successful in the company's history.

Coca-Cola also had huge pre-game success with its sponsorship of the Olympic torch relay celebration that (literally) ran throughout England for weeks. The company's logo was constantly visible at these family-oriented events, and Coca-Cola promotional products and samples were handed out to children as well as adults by people in tracksuits along the relay route. (Marketing junk food directly to children is normally banned in Britain.)

McDonald's has celebrated the Olympic spirit by building its largest-ever restaurant (seating capacity: 1,500). The company expects to sell 50,000 Big Macs, 100,000 servings of french fries and 30,000 milkshakes during the 29 days of the Olympics and its companion event, the Paralympics.

'The Obesity Olympics'

Earlier this week, the London-based Children's Food Campaign (CFC) released a scathing report called "The Obesity Olympics" that takes the International Olympics Committee (IOC) to task for permitting junk-food manufacturers to continue to sponsor the Games.

"Even before a medal has been won, McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Cadbury's are already big winners of the Games," write the authors of the report. "Their sponsorship buys them unchallenged prominence and it gives them a particularly valuable association with athleticism and success. They want people either to forget that their flagship brands are high in calories, sugar and fat, or believe instead that consuming such food and drink is part of a healthy, and 'winning' formula. The increased emphasis these companies place on 'obesity-offsetting' -- funding sports equipment and exercise schemes -- is also part of their drive to convince us that they are trying to be a positive force for the nation's health."

You'd have to do a lot of "offsetting" to counter the calories in the flagship junk-food products sold by McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Cadbury, the report points out. To burn off the calories in a meal that includes a Big Mac and a medium-sized Coca-Cola, you'd need to bicycle for 110 minutes, for example. …

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