by Marion Nestle
Jul 27 2012

Should soda and fast-food companies sponsor the Olympics?

On the eve of the Olympics, The Lancet has published a special issue on physical activity.

Since this is too small to read:

Physical activity:

Worldwide, we estimated that physical inactivity causes 6-10% of the major non-communicable diseases…physical inactivity seems to have an effect similar to that of smoking or obesity.

The issue is packed with carefully researched commentaries and papers on the benefits of physical activity.

But it starts out with a tough editorial,  Chariots of Fries:

The Games should encourage physical activity, promote healthy living, and inspire the next generation to exercise. However, marring this healthy vision has been the choice of junk food and drink giants—McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and Cadbury’s—as major sponsors of the event

Health campaigners have rightly been dismayed. On June 20, the London Assembly (an elected body that scrutinises the work of the Mayor of London) passed a motion urging the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to adopt strict sponsorship criteria that exclude food and drinks companies strongly associated with high calorie brands and products linked to childhood obesity.

Meanwhile, the UK’s Academy of Medical Royal Colleges has said that the presence of McDonald’s and Coca-Cola at the 2012 Games sends out the wrong message to children.

This morning, I received an e-mail from the Coca-Cola Civic Action Network (CAN), described on its website as

a non-partisan group whose purpose is to provide information to the Coca-Cola family about national, state, and local issues that could affect us.  Whenever an issue comes up that could change our day-to-day lives, CAN goes to work getting important information to its members.

The message lists Coca-Cola’s Olympic actions:

  • Olympic Torch Relay
    Integrated Marketing Campaign, Move to the Beat
  • Global Anthem, Documentary & Global TV Commercial
  • Coca-Cola Presents, Beat TV
  • Digital & Mobile Application
  • Games-time Refreshment
  • Powerade Sports Academy
  • Physical Activity Programs
  • Legacy in sustainability

The e-mail says:

Coca-Cola will be refreshing and hydrating the 14,000 athletes, 7,000 officials, 20,000 workers and volunteers and more than 6 million spectators that are expected to flock to the Olympic Park. From one product in one size offered at the 1948 Olympic Games, to today’s more than 500 brands at the London 2012 Games, Coca-Cola will provide the widest range of drinks and sizes ever offered at an Olympic or Paralympic Games, to suit every lifestyle and hydration need.

Should soda and fast-food companies be sponsoring the Olympics?  Is this the message we want sent to kids?  I don’t think so.  You?

  • No, it certainly isn’t the message we should be sending, but unfortunately it’s the same message they are already getting all day every day. We are inundated with commercials promoting things that, while edible, aren’t really FOOD, and in the long run these non-foods wreak havoc inside our bodies.

    And I would even contest that such things are even truly edible–kleenex is edible, as in we are able to chew it up and swallow it, but that doesn’t mean we should. Junk food and sodas fall in that same category, stuff that’s edible but with no real nutritional value to speak of.

  • yakkity yak

    Should they? From whose perspective? From theirs, yes, it’s their best opportunity to equate their toxic products with heroic physical activity and world peace of sorts, which in turn drives sales and maximizes profits.

    Should they be allowed to sponsor the Olympics? Heck no. Good on the London Assembly, but too little too late. It’s time now to focus on Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016

    You can read the Olympic Charter here:

    See Page 23, interesting use of the terms “exploitation” and “serious damage”
    2.2.1 For all sponsorship and suppliership agreements and for all marketing initiatives other than those referred to in paragraph 2.2.2 below, such exploitation shall not cause serious damage to the interests of the NOC (National Olympic Committee) concerned, and the decision shall be taken by the IOC (International Olympic Committee) in consultation with such NOC, which shall receive part of the net proceeds deriving from such exploitation.

    2.2.2 For all licensing agreements, the NOC shall receive half of all net income from such exploitation, after deduction of all taxes and out-of-pocket costs relating thereto. The NOC will be informed in advance of any such exploitation.

    Meanwhile, a great piece just up on Civil Eats:
    How the London Olympics Will Revolutionize Food

  • Cathy Richards

    The heart of the games has been sponsored right out of them.

    If Coca Cola was serious about the fitness/hydration link they have to the Olympics, they would at least change their sponsorship logo/branding to Dasani water and Gatorade type drinks, and not soft drinks.

    But the Olympics for them is 100% branding opportunity. The corporation clearly knows that Coke is threatened in developed countries by health agendas and is rabidly pursuing brand recognition in developing countries – the Olympics fits right into their game plan.

    From Wiki:
    “The Olympic motto is Citius, Altius, Fortius, a Latin expression meaning “Faster, Higher, Stronger”. Coubertin’s ideals are further expressed in the Olympic creed:

    The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.[97]”

    Perhaps this fits right into Cokes idealized perspective on their goals.

  • Just like the Susan G. Komen Foundation should partner with KFC. Oy.

  • Health Drinks Online India – On a Healthy Note is the right place for buy healthy drink form online with an affordable price in India.

  • phyll

    Who rules the house hold, the children or the parents. The parents have the money and the transportation. The parents are making the decision to go to the fast food restaurants. Stop going and eat healthy at home. If companies want to spend their money on advertising let them. We do not have to buy their products.

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  • I prefer to live in a country where all are free to market their products, and where I enjoy the luxury of declining to purchase them! Do you REALLY believe that there will be more converts to sugar-sweetened beverages because Coca-Cola-sponsored Olympic athletes are shown in ads with them these 14 days?

  • R.S

    In answer to the above – yes I do believe that people will be converted to coca-cola. I believe this because Coke have the best marketing people in the world working for them and would not be spending the many millions to get this sponsorship if it did not pay off in increased sales. Corporations do not spend money for no return!

  • Cathy Richards

    @Phyll — yes we have some freedom of choice, but advertising clearly impacts our choices. Big Brother can be an organization that has your best interests at heart (eg. public health, government) or it can be a corporation that has their bottom line at heart. Either way your freedom of choice is influenced. Which Big Brother do you want influencing you? Government or Corporate?

  • I’ve just come back from the Olympics, and saw the food and beverage sponsorships up-close-and-personal. I am not going to defend the sponsorship of the games by unhealthy food and beverage companies, because I do believe it sends the wrong message. However, as a spectator, I was pleasantly surprised by the variety and prices of the food and drinks on offer. The bottle of water was half the price of a coke (how often do you see that!) and the calories for the sodas were clearly labeled on the menu boards. The ‘treats’ on offer from cadbury’s were far less clear (no calories on the boards).

    Would I prefer that coke not be sold (and heavily marketed) at the olympics? Yes. But given that this is never going to happen, I’m just glad to be able to buy a water for a cheaper price than the coke. It would be interesting to see the coke sales figures from these games to see if the price difference changed purchasing patterns away from coke and towards water.

    I’ll be posting a full olympics food and drink recap in the coming days.

  • val

    From my 10 year old: “Why would McDonalds sponser the Olympics? No athlete would eat there.”

  • Jen Oslund

    This message is reinforced on local levels too…..
    I remember how growing up as a lifeguard Pepsi (or coke, I don’t remember) decided to sponsor our community recreation center. From that day on all our signs had to have to logo on it.
    This included a large banner in the new pool area and all the lifeguard uniforms.
    Any lifeguard that wore their old uniform without the logo would get written up (if you get written up 3x your employment would be suspended).
    Being a rebel I got written up twice before caving in (I had to pay for college somehow!)

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  • Junk food companies should not be sponsoring – no way. They’ll spin this as “hey it’s all about physical activity”
    I love how Coke says on it’s box – Proud Sponsor of Active Living”

  • We’ve actually been talking a lot about healthy eating lately because of the Olympics i.e. telling our 3-year-old to eat his meat and veggies so he can grow strong muscles like the people in the Olympics! He knows soda is “spicy juice” for grown-ups and has no interest in it. Probably helps that we don’t keep it around the house! Anyway, I think if you are a healthy family who doesn’t eat or drink junk, the Olympic commercials aren’t really going to make a difference one way or the other. If you’re a couch potato who’s already sitting around drinking pop while watching the Olympics, I don’t really care if their endorsement of the Olympics makes you reach for a Pepsi vs a Coke. I guess I think that’s where soda marketing actually makes a difference-in soda drinkers choosing brands, not in healthy families suddenly deciding to drink soda in hopes of developing abnormallly awesome athletic abilities. If my son ever asked, I’d be sure to tell him that Olympians don’t drink soda (and that my high school and college cross-country and track teams actually had rules against drinking soda because it is so terrible for you and just not something serious athletes drink).

  • It’s an age of Greenathon. It’s age of healthy eating.

    The research and study clearly say that Soda and Fast Food companies are not producing healthy food. On the one side we tell our kids to eat healthy and at the same time prestigious Olympic sponsors are tell the kids to eat fast Food and drink Soda.

    No. It will be total NO to Soda and fast Food companies sponsor the Olympic.

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