Food industry under fire over Olympic sponsorship deals

By David Burrows

- Last updated on GMT

The Olympic Games in Rio has been branded a “carnival of junk food marketing. ©iStock
The Olympic Games in Rio has been branded a “carnival of junk food marketing. ©iStock

Related tags Nutrition

The Olympic Games in Rio has been branded a “carnival of junk food marketing” as campaigners published new research on advertising tactics used by Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Mars brand M&Ms. Kellogg’s were also singled out as sponsors of Team Great Britain. 

The Children’s Food Campaign highlighted that, of 25 different products listed in 46 promotions on Kellogg’s website on 27 July, 23 (92%) would have a ‘red’ tag for sugar under the UK’s colour-coded front-of-pack nutrition labelling scheme. Furthermore, 22 (88%) of the products would be classed ‘less healthy’ under the Food Standards Agency/Ofcom nutrient profile model.

The campaigners have since submitted a complaint to the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in relation to what they believe are unsubstantiated general health claims and misleading use of the term 'nutritious' on Kellogg’s Olympics promotional websites (​ and​).

Kellogg’s said its wide range of breakfast cereals and cereal snacks contain “varying amounts of sugar all of which are clearly labelled; our cereals provide three to 18% of the recommended daily allowance of sugar while [in] our snacks [it is] five to 20%. We strongly believe an all-encompassing approach is needed to tackle obesity,”​ a spokesperson added. 

Controversial comments

"Asian and Latin American countries have no problem with companies that behave responsibly."©iStock

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) had a similar message as it reacted to controversial comments made by its director general. In a magazine interview last week​, Ian Wright suggested the controversy surrounding sponsorship of sporting events is “invariably Western and metropolitan. Asian and Latin American countries have no problem with companies that behave responsibly”.

Campaigners seized on the comments, rounding up opinion from organisations and institutions involved in tackling diet-related diseases in South and Central America, Malaysia, Nepal, Bangladesh, South Africa, New Zealand and the US.

Wright’s statement was branded “outrageous”​ by Dr Fabio Gomes, a Brazilian public health nutritionist and Pan-American Health Organisation/World Health Organisation regional advisor on nutrition. “If these companies did indeed act responsibly they would not advertise to children,”​ he added.

FDF fights back

The 2014 Obesity report recommneded restructuring urban and education environments to facilitate physical activity. ©iStock

Malcolm Clark, author of 2012’s Obesity Games​ report​ and coordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign, has written to a number of UK embassies, encouraging them to seek a formal apology from Wright. In a statement FDF said it has “of course, received no requests for an apology from any embassy and Ian [Wright] stands by his comments”.

Wright was clearly not shying away from a fight when he added: “At a time when public health budgets are shrinking, restricting sports sponsorship from food and drink companies – whether of grass roots sport or international competitions – would result in less physical activity, not more.”

He also pointed to a “recent report”​ by McKinsey that 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 noted.

The report​, Overcoming obesity: An initial economic analysis​, published in 2014, concluded that education and personal responsibility are “critical elements”​ of any program to reduce obesity, but not sufficient on their own. Additional interventions include “reducing default portion sizes, changing marketing practices and restructuring urban and education environments to facilitate physical activity”,​ the authors suggested. 

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