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Australia

Australia's future sports stars are being bombarded by fast food ads

By RJ Whitehead , 12-Jun-2014

New research has shown that Australian children are being bombarded with unprecedented levels of ads for fast food and sugary drinks via food and beverage firms sponsoring community sports clubs.

According to a study conducted at the University of Wollongong, children at these clubs are being exposed to unhealthy messages for up to four hours per week during community sport, a rate that one researchers described as exceedingly large.

Unhealthy messages

Dr Bridget Kelly, lead author and researcher at the UoW’s School of Health and Society, said that kids “playing outdoor cricket and rugby league were exposed to the greatest amount of unhealthy messages”.

With nearly two-thirds of all children participating in organised sport regularly, it is deeply concerning to see such a high frequency of fast food and sugary drink sponsorship at local sports clubs undermining the great health benefits of kids sport,” Kelly said.

Earlier research has already established that kids have high recall and awareness of the sponsors of their own clubs—particularly those featuring sports stars – associating them with positive brand attributes.

Our study shows that fast food and sugary drink sponsorship of children’s sport is pervasive, with opportunities for company branding ranging from signage on uniforms and on field, to vouchers and other promotions.

Obesity rates

According to Kelly, the study combined information about children’s participation in community sport with data on known patterns of food and drink sponsorship of New South Wales sports clubs, to estimate population rates of children’s exposure to sponsorship messages during sporting activities.

She emphasised that the high rate of children’s exposure to unhealthy food and drink marketing across a variety of mediums is a significant contributor to childhood obesity rates.

If we are serious about tackling Australia’s childhood obesity epidemic, we need to limit children’s exposure to these unhealthy messages—particularly in environments that should be promoting activity and healthy initiatives such as community sport.

Published by Sports Medicine Australia in the upcoming edition of The Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, the research comes in the backdrop of an international report last week, which revealed that about one in four Australian children are either overweight or obese.

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