Healthy advertising at sporting campaigns under scrutiny in run-up to next Olympics

By Natalie Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

The study looked into “tensions surrounding the marketing and provision of supposedly ‘unhealthy’ food and drink during such events." ©iStock
The study looked into “tensions surrounding the marketing and provision of supposedly ‘unhealthy’ food and drink during such events." ©iStock

Related tags: Nutrition

With the Olympics over for another four years, a team of scientists will begin a new study into healthy advertising at major sports events.

“The next (Olympics) event will be in Tokyo in 2020, so we would be honoured to inform their health promotion practices,” ​Dr Joe Piggin – part of the project team – told FoodNavigator.

The PHANSMER Project (Physical Activity and Nutrition at Sport Mega Events Research) will run for three years, examining policies and processes involved in health promotions for nutritional health, physical activity and anti-smoking campaigns.

Food and drink will be a major focus of the study in the face of mounting pressures to make products – and consumers – healthier.

In particular the consortium will examine the “tensions surrounding the marketing and provision of supposedly ‘unhealthy’ food and drink during such events,” ​Loughborough University noted in a press statement​.

“With food and drink featuring prominently in sponsorship agreements and marketing, this aspect will be a major focus of the study,” ​said Dr Piggin, who is senior lecturer in sport management and policy at Loughborough University.

“We are studying these events at a unique time, when food and drink companies are under significant political pressure to produce healthier products.” ​Dr Piggin said.

Regulation impending

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The Euro 2016 football tournament in France this summer was looked at by the team with results to come soon. ©iStock/chargerv8

The data was gathered from sourcing including policy and marketing analysis, nutrient analysis of foods and drinks and interviews with workers and consumers.

Preliminary analysis showed that, despite the Euros promoting ‘healthy stadiums’ there was difficulties in providing healthy food and drink options in some stadiums and fan zones.

It was also found that while some aspects of the tournament were heavily regulated, including beer with only 0.5% alcohol sold, some food and drinks with high sugar- low nutrient content were not monitored.

However, with governments – most recently in Europe​ and Mexico​ – cracking down on sugar consumption with taxes and healthy eating guidelines, more regulation on foods advertised and sold at big games looks inevitable.

“There is clearly momentum building towards regulation,”​ Dr Piggin told us, adding: “I suspect many companies are already thinking ahead to try and manage the increasingly vocal health lobby, and avoid having images on their products akin to those that are now common on cigarette packets.”

The nature of the beast

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Sporting events are celebratory occasions, encouraged by corporate sponsors who are obligated to generate profit. ©iStock

However, Dr Piggin stressed that by their very nature, sporting events bring with them a more relaxed attitude to nutrition.

“A unique aspect of sport mega events is that they are celebratory occasions – a time to enjoy, relax, and perhaps consume more of products than you might usually, along with the encouragement of corporate sponsors who are obligated to generate profit,” ​he said.

In any case, Dr Haifa Tlili, from Paris Descartes University – also working on the project –questioned: “Does policy rhetoric always turn into practical action?”

She added: “We also examine how social traditions are managed in relation to companies which are often afforded a large amount of control at sports events. For example, our analysis shows that at Euro 2016, many food products were far from traditional French food habits/tastes. Examining this will help us clarify what visions of health are presented at sports events.”

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