Rethinking Junk Food Sponsorship in Football

We are writing on behalf of SUGAR SMART – a campaign led by the food charity Sustain and supported by Jamie Oliver – and Healthy Stadia to invite you to join us in taking action to protect our children from the high amounts of exposure to foods and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS), an issue that a number of UK football clubs are already supporting.

The problem

At a time where childhood obesity is at an all-time high, it is with significant concern that we see the UK’s football associations, leagues and some football clubs continuing to partner with companies that are known for producing HFSS products. By linking themselves to sports bodies, these companies are attempting to associate their products with a healthy and active lifestyle but, in reality, many of their products contain high amounts of saturated fat, sugar and/ or salt. For example, a standard 330 ml sugary drink contains approximately 35g of sugar (nearly 9 teaspoons), exceeding the maximum recommended daily amount of free sugars for both children and adults.

The overconsumption of HFSS products contributes to the high levels of childhood obesity and tooth decay, and our children are paying the price of this irresponsible marketing:

  • Nearly 43,000 under-18s were admitted to hospital for multiple teeth extraction in England in 2016/17, mostly due to rotten teeth associated with sugar consumption.
  • Almost 1 in 4 children are above a healthy weight when they start primary school, rising to more than 1 in 3 by the time they leave primary school. This is predicted to increase to half of children by
    2020 if we don’t take drastic action.

Junk food in Sport
Sponsorship by companies promoting unhealthy products is highlighted in the Government’s 2015 Sporting Future strategy document, stating that:

‘Sponsorship is an area where a number of sports, and individual clubs, have adopted a responsible approach, for example around sponsorship by companies marketing alcohol or high fat sugar and salt (HFSS) foods. We will continue to discuss with sports the scope for voluntary agreements in this area.’

(P.54- Sporting Future: A New Strategy for an Active Nation, HM Government, 2015)

Yet despite a renewed focus on ‘responsible sponsorship’, clubs, leagues and governing bodies are still entering into new partnership deals with companies marketing HFSS products showing that we need a much tougher stance on the issue. Advertising of HFSS products is now banned across all children's media – including online and social – in a landmark decision to help tackle childhood obesity.

We recognise some of the excellent work undertaken by the community functions of UK leagues and clubs to increase levels of physical activity and educate children on the importance of healthier eating and active lifestyles, and for this they should be applauded. However, sponsorship with HFSS brands and the resulting  mixed messages do much to undermine this good work, whilst consumption of many HFSS products such  as sugary drinks, crisps and confectionary is not simply a treat for many children, but a daily staple. It is worth noting that the calorie content in a standard chocolate bar is the equivalent to the calories expended by a 14 year old boy walking the length of a football pitch 97 times. Food for thought indeed.

Taking action
We ask clubs and stadiums to join SUGAR SMART and take action to reduce sugar and improve food and drinks – something already undertaken by Millwall FC, Charlton Athletic, Bristol City FC, Plymouth Argyle FC, Bath City FC and Exeter City FC among others – and clubs and catering providers to work with Healthy Stadia to benchmark their current catering offer, and work towards healthier options as the mainstream choice.

We also ask football associations, leagues and clubs not to enter new partnership deals with HFSS brands as a commitment to protect children’s health. Instead, they should promote healthier food and drink as part of education on healthier lifestyles and DCMS should renew their efforts in tackling the issue. As the highest participation team sport in the country, it’s time football too protects children against the
marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks and re-thinks its commercial partnerships to address the state of our children’s health. We look forward to working with you to help achieve this.

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