School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences


15 Jun 2018

England, the World Cup and childhood obesity

The biggest sporting event on the planet is dominated by junk food advertising – and today Public Health England announced that youngsters are eating twice the recommended amount of sugar.

So how much responsibility should events like the World Cup take for the rise poor diets and childhood obesity?

Here, Dr Joe Piggin explains the issue of 'ambush advertising' and the steps which are being taken...

I hope England wins the World Cup, writes Dr Piggin, but whatever happens, children’s health is certainly losing.

The entire football “pyramid” in England is riddled with junk food companies.

Through their love of football, children in England are bombarded with marketing for ultra-processed food and drink.

It continues through their early years and into adulthood. And it’s not sneaky, ambush marketing. It comes from official football organisations, events, venues, teams, and role models.

While sport marketers talk about the successful “reach” of sponsorship, public health promoters focus on the potentially disastrous effects these sponsors can have on children.

But it could all end very soon. The food charity Sustain has told the government what action is needed in sport settings: “Campaigns are currently calling on sports associations to disassociate themselves from junk food brands, but if sports associations will not act, the Government must step in.”

And now a Health Committee in the UK Parliament has formally recommended it is time to end these partnerships:

“The next round of the Government’s childhood obesity plan … should also include a commitment to end sponsorship by brands overwhelmingly associated with high fat, sugar and salt products of sports clubs, venues, youth leagues and tournaments.”

This is massive news.

Sponsorship of children’s sport by junk food companies is pervasive and predatory.

It includes organisations such as the FA and FIFA, competitions such as the Premier league and Carabao Cup, venues such as Wembley, and programmes such as McDonald’s national youth sponsorship.

To keep the momentum and pressure on the government to make these changes you can state your support with Sustain here.

For the health of children, this English football food pyramid needs to come tumbling down.

This problem is not confined to England either.

It’s global. I plan to track other countries soon.

See this recent research in the USA about the pervasiveness of junk food advertising in USA sport.

This article was first published in Dr Piggin's blog which can be found here.