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Olympics Used to Promote Junk Food

athletes running over hurdles in into water

Campaigners are warning that the Olympics are once again being used to advertise unhealthy products, particularly to children.

The Children’s Food Campaign has highlighted Kellogg’s and McDonald’s as the worst offenders at the Rio games.

Unhealthy Advertising

The Children’s Food Campaign has stepped up to complain about the sponsorship of the Olympic Games in Rio, which includes brands who are pushing high-fat and high-sugar products. The London Olympics faced similar criticism with their sponsorship by Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, and it looks as though the same mistakes have been made again.

Team GB is sponsored this year by Kellogg’s, but while they emphasise a healthy start to the day in their marketing, their products don’t always match up. Some of the products they have been pushing in Rio include Frosties and Coco Pops, which are high in sugar.

“We know first hand from London 2012 what a carnival of junk food marketing the Olympics are,” said Malcolm Clark, who is coordinating the campaign. “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&M’s and other sugary products which associate themselves with the Games. 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.”

Complaints have now been made to the Advertising Standards Agency about the use of unsubstantiated health claims and the term ‘nutritious’ on the Kellogg’s promotional website.

Food Expert Disagreement

Earlier, Ian Wright got himself into hot water in an interview over the very same issue. The director general of the Food and Drink Federation claimed that the 2012 sponsors were responsible companies who only faced controversy in western countries.

“Asian and Latin American countries have no problem with companies that behave responsibly,” he told Campaign Magazine.

The Children’s Food Campaign have made their disagreement with this statement clear, as have public health experts on a global scale.

“The Food and Drink Federation’s statement is outrageous, and wrong,” said Dr Fabio Gomes from Brazil, a regional nutrition advisor for the World Health Organisation. “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.”

His was not the only voice to be heard. “We find the UK Food and Drink Federation’s comments to be offensive,” said Alejandro Calvillo Unna, from Mexico’s Consumer Power. “In Latin America, these two companies – Coca-Cola and McDonald’s – represent one of the main vectors of the obesity and diabetes epidemic in our region.”

Talking Back

A Kellogg’s spokesperson was quick to make a statement. They said: “We strongly believe an all-encompassing approach is needed to tackle obesity. That’s why we are playing our part by listening to our shoppers and launching new foods and adapting the recipes of our existing products to give people more of what they want and less of what they don’t want.”

It's clear that those who work in the food industry need to do more to ensure that consumers are aware of the health implications of what they eat. Whether Kellogg’s are heroes or villains of the story is down to opinion.