Super fit athletes and diets high in fat, sugar and salt appear an unlikely and uncomfortable mix, but that’s exactly what’s happening in London now with the Olympics in its second week.
If you couldn’t tell already from the truckload of ads on our television screens, McDonald’s, Cadbury’s and Coca-Cola are the official food, snack and drink sponsors of the quadrennial event.
According to a report from UK-based Children’s Food Campaign, titled “The Obesity Games”, the companies are “obesity-offsetting” – that is, funding sports equipment and exercise schemes – in return for being allowed to promote their brands and products.
But really what they’re doing is deceiving the public into thinking they’re health conscious – thus “sugar-coating” their involvement in the obesity epidemic.
To counteract the number of calories in their food and drink, the “Holy Trinity” would have to be doing a lot of “offsetting”.
The Obesity Games report reveals if you wanted to burn off a Big Mac and medium-sized Coke, you would need to ride a bike for nearly two hours without a break. Talk about Olympic endurance.
While I highly doubt most of those competing would be regularly savouring kilojoule-dense meals, parents seeing the ads should be concerned about their children.
The focus of much of the commercial spend – kids – could be excused for thinking that eating such food and drink will result in athleticism and success.
A review commissioned by the UK Food Standards Agency concluded junk food promotions influence children’s food preferences, purchasing behaviour and consumption, and therefore increase their risk of serious illness in childhood and later life.
And a recent BBC story found kids perceive junk food to be less unhealthy when connected with sport. What a sad, naïve world in which we live.
Let’s cut to the chase – junk food manufacturers are unashamedly preying on our weaknesses. These prominent corporations are ignoring the reality of the obesity crisis to target the vulnerable and gullible.
As if one healthier line of food – think McDonald’s and its Heart Foundation Tick campaign that ended last year – will undo the damage. Clearly the lure of sponsors’ cash far outweighs any considerations about our health.
Just reflect for a moment on the fatty deposits left around your liver and spleen and other vital organs when you next bite into a calorie-loaded, salty and sugary burger, thick, rich milk chocolate bar or overly sweetened carbonated drink.
A Cadbury spokesperson said the Olympics are “the biggest sales opportunity of [a] lifetime”. Undoubtedly so, for the Games provide it with the best possible global branding platform.
Co-ordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign Malcolm Clark said “the Olympics have become a celebration of big”.
“For the junk food companies who sponsor the Games that means big restaurants, big audiences, big brand value, big profits. But for children, that could also mean bigger waistlines and bigger health problems later in life.”
The Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) warned sports-loving Aussies to be careful of a “couch potato” lifestyle during the 17-day event.
A spokesperson said eating fatty foods and watching marathon-long sessions of TV makes it easier for Olympic fans to pile on the kilos.
The DAA suggests “snack swaps” such as:
- A cup of air-popped popcorn (115kJ) instead of a 50 gram pack of potato chips (1050kJ)
- Strawberries and 10 almonds (375kJ) instead of a creamy dip and 10 crackers (1005kJ)
- A boiled egg on wholemeal toast (605kJ) instead of a slice of pizza (775kJ)
Dietitian Julie Gilbert said: “Munching your way through crisps, crackers and chocolates over the two weeks of the Games telecast [is] harmful to your health. Eating in front of the TV typically means overeating, as it’s hard to keep track of how much you’re eating.”
She said if you know you’re going to spend the night glued to the small screen, choose snacks that are portion-controlled and are no more than 600kJ. Importantly, she added, exercise earlier in the day or even during ad breaks.
Her advice follows a study that found a third of the world’s adults are physically inactive and, worse still, their sedentary lifestyles are killing 5 million every year.
Despite these compelling statistics, it appears those on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are more than happy to accept junk food companies’ stance – and with it the resultant money for television broadcasters the world over – that healthy eating is about personal choice.
So, in promoting the greatest sporting event on the planet, is the IOC being socially irresponsible? Surely a fair question, given the obesity epidemic that has such devastating consequences.