Time to kick junk food out of sport

24 November 2021
A new report finds sports sponsorships are hijacked by unhealthy food and drink brands.

The Children’s Food Campaign and Food Active today launch a new report - ‘Kicking Out Junk Food: Sports Sponsorship and a Better Deal for Health.’ It details how this year’s ‘Summer of Sport’ was used by the food industry to put junk food centre stage.

Not only is this sponsorship pervasive in professional sport, it is permeating through the sporting pyramid and featuring in local community sport. For example, McDonald's equips over 5,000 FA football clubs with new kits each year, and boast it's the longest standing supporter of grassroots football in the UK.

Feeding into the report is a survey of hundreds of parents. Nine in 10 (90%) of those surveyed said the marketing of junk food through sport made it harder for them to feed their children a healthier diet. Over three quarters (77%) of respondents said the marketing meant their children thought ‘it is okay to eat less healthy food and drink’.

The report summarises the academic evidence that finds sports sponsorship positively influences children’s impressions of brands. As we have seen before, the internet is being used to push this marketing before children’s eyes. Eight out of ten parents were concerned by social media activity featuring players.

Highlighted in the report are some areas of good practice. For example, Aldi used its sponsorship of Team GB to promote healthy eating. Forest Green Rovers Football Club became the first professional football team to call for a ban on junk food advertising in sport. It is also recognised as the world’s greenest football club and only serves fresh, vegan food in their stadium. On a more local level, our friends at BiteBack2030 have teamed up with Dulwich Hamlet FC to promote child health and the BiteBack logo will be dominating the stands this season.

At a time when health inequalities are widening between children from the most and least affluent backgrounds, it is imperative that action is taken to remove junk food from the spotlight, and replace it with positive health messaging. Of the parents who contributed to the report, 86% supported Government legislation to prohibit advertising unhealthy brands in sport, and 91% agreed grassroots sports should not have to rely on income from these sources.

We fully support the recommendations put forward by the Children’s Food Campaign and Food Active, which include the Government:

  • Introducing regulations to ensure only healthy food and drink can be associated with marketing through sports

  • Addressing the use of promotional techniques on unhealthy products’ packaging

  • Equipping local authorities with adequate financial resources to support public health and community sport.

The full report, including all the recommendations, can be read here.