Dr James Davies MP, a member of the Health and Social Care select committee and a vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Obesity, said: “There is a case to move against the prominent advertising of HFSS products in sport.
“In particular, it does not seem right for a major fast food company, for instance, to be overtly promoted at children’s sporting events.”
Tam Fry, chairman of the UK’s National Obesity Forum and co-founder of the Child Growth Foundation, called for the UK to adopt the Amsterdam approach to junk food.
“We’ve got past the 11th hour and the crisis of obesity, which has been spoken to by the Government for years and years and years, is now necessitating the same kind of action as we are seeing with Covid,” he said.
Caroline Cerny of the Obesity Health Alliance, a coalition of more than 40 major health organisations including the BMA, said the sponsorship of sport by junk food companies and the use of footballers and other athletes to promote them sent “a really mixed message” to children about what constituted a healthy lifestyle.
The Government has already imposed a 9pm watershed on the advertising of products high in fats, salt or sugar (HFSS) on television as part of an obesity strategy launched last summer and ministers are consulting on a total online ban on the marketing of such products.
A Government spokesperson said: “The Government has been clear that while it is right that sports have the freedom to benefit commercially from their products, they also have an important responsibility to consider the impact their sponsorship, marketing and media rights deals could have on supporters – particularly children and young people.”
Jo Stevens, the shadow Culture Secretary, said: “The Tories have failed to tackle childhood obesity and cuts to public health budgets have exposed their empty promises.
“Labour has called for children to be protected from powerful junk food advertising.”
A ban on gambling firm sponsors on football shirts would leave Premier League and Championship clubs alone with a £110 million black hole to fill at a time of unprecedented financial crisis and similar curbs on junk food sponsors would further compound their plight.
But Fry was dismissive, saying: “There are enough people around from whom you can get sponsorship.”
‘It just makes them want to go and eat a McDonald’s’
When Britain’s children are finally allowed to play football again after the latest national coronavirus lockdown, one organisation will be waiting for them with open arms.
McDonald’s has been the Football Association’s community partner for almost two decades now, ploughing tens of millions of pounds into the grassroots game, including schemes for those as young as five.
“Providing 5 million hours of Fun Football to over 500,000 kids by 2022”, the company boasts of its fully-funded Fun Football Centres programme, formed in partnership with all four home FAs.
With children’s activity levels having plummeted during almost a year of lockdowns and parents at their wits end following weeks of homeschooling, what better than free football to lure kids off the sofa again?
But, for Caroline Cerny, the prospect of hundreds of thousands of the nation’s children running about in McDonald’s branded bibs kicking a McDonald’s-branded ball fills her with dread.
“It just makes them think about McDonald’s and wanting to go and eat a McDonald’s,” the mother of two and the lead for the Obesity Health Alliance (OHA) tells Telegraph Sport.
“There is only one reason junk food brands sponsor children’s sport and that’s to make sure their products are firmly centre stage in children’s minds.”