New Zealand

Sporty kids being bombarded with junk food ads in New Zealand

By Andrew Schreiber

- Last updated on GMT

Sporty kids being bombarded with junk food ads in New Zealand

Related tags New zealand Nutrition

Kiwi kids are being bombarded with junk food advertising and their parents often feel powerless to combat this, according to new research released at the NZ Population Health Conference in Auckland today.

According to this research, unhealthy foods and beverages dominate kids’ sporting environments, such as sports clubs.

What we’ve found is that children are continually confronted with high calorie but nutritionally poor food whenever they engage with sport​,” said Dr Moira Smith, from the Health Promotion and Policy Research unit at the University of Otago, Wellington.

They get McDonalds vouchers when they play well; they have All Blacks encouraging them to ‘get active with Powerade’ when it is a high sugar sports drink not recommended for children playing Saturday sport, and they see high profile sports like rugby, football and cricket being sponsored by KFC, McDonalds and Milo​,” she added.

When kids play sport themselves or attend events at stadiums, the food options are almost always chips, hot dogs, hamburgers and fizzy drinks​.”

According to Smith, the research involved giving cameras to children in Wellington sports clubs, and their parents, and asking them to photograph food and beverage related items they associated with their sport. Focus groups were then held to determine broad themes and concepts. 

Smith said parents told her that countering this environment is a real battle and that they often feel overwhelmed, unsupported and underpowered in their efforts to provide a healthy food environment for their children.

Parents get their kids involved in sport because they want them to be active and healthy, and these messages run completely counter to that. The parents say it promotes unhealthy eating habits early on and ask why sporting heroes don’t encourage their kids to eat more fruits and vegetables​.”

The researcher also claimed that both young people and parents recognise that food companies deliberately target children for commercial gain.

Smith went as far as to say that this is a violation of children’s rights under UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which New Zealand is a signatory.

The convention says children have a right to the highest attainable standard of health, that they should be protected from any form of exploitation and that parents should be supported in providing good nutrition to them​,” she said.

New Zealand children are now the third most overweight and obese in the OECD and are presenting with type 2 diabetes, which is typically diagnosed in adulthood. Tooth decay is the leading reason for our children being admitted to a hospital​.”

Smith said that a comprehensive policy approach is needed to improve the sport-related food environment and that strategies should include: replacing food industry sponsorship with health promotion advertising; establishing food policies at sports settings; and implementing healthy food initiatives at sports clubs.

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