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Loughborough research calls for change in spectator food and drink provision at sports mega events such as Rio 2016

Spectator food and drink provision at Rio 2016 failed to meet World Health Organisation standards, the Brazilian government’s dietary advice, as well as the organising committee’s own aims according to findings from The Phansmer Research Group, which includes Loughborough University’s Dr Joe Piggin.

The research group examined public health policy, collected data from a wide variety of Olympic and Paralympic venues and interviewed spectators who attended Rio 2016. Before the Games began, IOC-endorsed documents proclaimed food and drink should be ‘healthy, nutritious and balanced’ and that ‘Brazilian products and recipes should have a prominent position in all menus.’

The group’s research found this wasn’t the case and instead, ultra-processed food and drink dominated the menus. Dr Piggin notes that millions of meals were to be served to spectators over four weeks.

“There were millions of opportunities to teach and reinforce healthy behaviour for people of all ages.  The Dietary Guidelines for the Brazilian population suggest ultra-processed foods and drinks should be avoided because they tend to be consumed in excess, displace natural or minimally processed foods, and their means of production, distribution, marketing, and consumption damage culture, social life and the environment.”

The Phansmer Report proposes significant changes should be made at future Olympic and Paralympic Games to ensure that spectators are not deprived of access to healthy food and drink, and that healthy eating is elevated above the importance of sponsors’ food and drink.

Some of the other major issues that prevented spectators from having a healthy diet at the Games included the confiscation of spectators’ own food and drink at venue entry points, a perceived lack of access to free drinking water at some venues and a policy which favoured sponsors’ products at the exclusion of other healthy options.

The research group has urged the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and future Local Organising Committee’s (LOC’s) and corporate sponsors to commit to certain standards of food and drink for spectators, consulting with independent public health experts. The group also calls for mega events such as the Olympic Games to allow patrons to either bring in their own food and drink, or ensure that spectators can purchase healthy food. An increase in vegetarian options is also needed, as well as clear visual displays of food content on all menus.

“Mega sports events such as the Olympic and Paralympic Games are significant global events. With global health issues related to poor nutrition, this study has exposed a number of failings at Rio 2016 which should be dealt with urgently by the IOC, LOC’s and corporate sponsors,” added Dr Piggin.

The WHO has told all member states that settings where children and adolescents gather (such as sports facilities and events) should not feature marketing of unhealthy foods and sugar-sweetened beverages. Dr Piggin and the Phansmer group call for major change to the way mega events treat customers.

“The Games’ fell well short of WHO policy, Brazilian government advice and the Games’ own guidelines. Much more emphasis is needed on promoting health at events like these.

“Both the IOC and LOC’s must ensure that health promotion is a central feature of food and drink provision for spectators. At the time of writing preparations are being made for the Japan 2020 Olympics and Paralympics Games. Also, various potential hosts are preparing their candidate files to bid for the right to host the 2024 Olympics and Paralympics Games. There is a clear and urgent need to ensure that healthful nutrition is a central theme of The Games.”

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