England, the World Cup and childhood obesity

I hope England wins the World Cup, but whatever happens, children’s health is certainly losing. The entire football “pyramid” in England is riddled with junk food companies.

Football food pyramid jpeg
The English Football Food Pyramid

Through their love of football, children in England are bombarded with marketing for ultra-processed food and drink. It continues through their early years and into adulthood. And it’s not sneaky, ambush marketing. It comes from official football organisations, events, venues, teams, and role models. While sport marketers talk about the successful “reach” of sponsorship, public health promoters focus on the potentially disastrous effects these sponsors can have on children.

But it could all end very soon. The food charity Sustain has told the government what action is needed in sport settings: “Campaigns are currently calling on sports associations to disassociate themselves from junk food brands, but if sports associations will not act, the Government must step in.”

And now a Health Committee in the UK Parliament has formally recommended it is time to end these partnerships:

“The next round of the Government’s childhood obesity plan … should also include a commitment to end sponsorship by brands overwhelmingly associated with high fat, sugar and salt products of sports clubs, venues, youth leagues and tournaments.”

THIS IS MASSIVE NEWS. Sponsorship of children’s sport by junk food companies is pervasive and predatory. It includes organisations such as the FA and FIFA, competitions such as the Premier league and Carabao Cup, venues such as Wembley, and programmes such as McDonald’s national youth sponsorship.

To keep the momentum and pressure on the government to make these changes you can state your support with Sustain here: https://www.sustainweb.org/poll/sugar/

For the health of children, this English football food pyramid needs to come tumbling down.

Joe Piggin

PS: This problem is not confined to England either. It’s global. I plan to track other countries soon. See this recent research in the USA about the pervasiveness of junk food advertising in USA sport.

And one more on Big Sugar’s impact on science …

I was at a conference in Brasil recently, where one study examined the use of carbohydrate during endurance exercise. Here were the findings which were presented to around 300 undergraduate and postgraduate sport students:

And there was more:
So the take home message was “consume a lot of carbohydrate”.

Then the speaker had to acknowledge the funders of the study. Here is the slide showing them:


The two top organisations were not described as problematic in any way. Instead they were positively acknowledged for their financial contributions. If you look around their websites you will clearly see a “pro-sugar” attitude of these organisations.
https://www.suikerinfo.nl/ and http://www.sugarnutrition.org.uk/index.html (At the end of 2016, the “British Nutrition Foundation” ceased operating.)

On the day of the conference I took a screenshot of the info on their website. You can see just how much they advocate the use of sugar and refute sugar consumption as a cause of obesity. And even more incredibly, the source for their claim about sugar not causing obesity … is themselves! What a scam this is!


You can also see that many of the companies providing money to the British Nutrition Foundation have a strong profit motive for increasing consumption of their high sugar products.
I wonder if the closure of the British Nutrition Foundation is connected with consumers moving away from high sugar products?
Joe Piggin

Academics, Physical Activity and Ethics: The Declarations

This post is written in haste but I have been thinking about ethics since I started this blog. In the last couple of hours an article has been exposing more than was previously publicly known about Coca Cola’s involvement with physical activity promotion. It is worth reading.

It is clear that the PA community is not currently united about ethical practice. Recent events give an impetus for the academic community to prioritise critical thinking about “advocacy”, “vested interests” and “conflicts of interest” in physical activity research and promotion.

Therefore, here are 4 declarations for ethical PA academic practice. I hope ideas like this guide the academic PA community. They are not exhaustive. I welcome additions.

1. Physical activity researchers and promoters must critically investigate the background of the funders they seek money from.

2. As producers of knowledge, PA researchers are in a powerful, privileged position.  The PA community must automatically treat funders with skepticism.

3. Those involved in PA curriculum design and teaching must give immediate attention to “ethics” in their courses. They must make ethics a compulsory component of the qualification and find suitably qualified people to teach this.

4. PA journals and conferences must foreground themes of “ethics”, “conflicts of interests” and “vested interests” in their publications and events.


Joe Piggin

For more, see:
Piggin, J & Bairner, A (2016) The global physical inactivity pandemic: An analysis of knowledge production. Sport, Education and Society. 21, 2. 131-147.