sponsors are turning our kids into junk food freaks,
by Joanne Dwyer - 12th May 2004
The Sydney Morning Herald)
The half-time oranges have been replaced
by chocolate bars, putting children well on the road
to obesity, writes Joanne Dwyer.
a nation we are battling with childhood obesity.
Authorities are looking to children's sport as
the answer and parents are responding enthusiastically.
However, a seedy side of children's sport is firmly
and quietly marking its territory, potentially
challenging the health it promises.
have long loved junk food. And naturally, they
enjoy eating after a good sports game. But in
recent times, the link between bad food and exercise
seems to have grown stronger, as part of an emerging
new culture in children's sport. Changes in attitudes
to food have seen the humble orange at half-time
replaced by lollies, chocolates, doughnuts and
soft drinks. At Saturday morning soccer games,
six-year-olds can be spotted downing red frogs,
eating chips and sucking on Wizz Fizz.
such as "I've got a lollipop for you in my
bag after the game" can be heard being called
out from the sideline. It's not uncommon to see
children back on the field, finishing off those
chewier lollies from half-time.
junk food epidemic is invading children's sport
on all fronts. Sports club canteens are filled
with a smorgasbord of sugar and fat dance teachers
are using lollies to keep order during practice
a very early age children are learning that high
fat and high sugar treats are part of sport and
the reason for trying - or the expectation for
simply turning up.
multinationals are also in on the action and are
making a fat living. With McDonald's "encouragement
awards" children are rewarded for playing
well with some high-fat foods - free chips, hash
browns or sundaes over four weeks, on the condition
that a burger is bought. No mention of Salads
Plus on these awards.
has also got in on the game. Its latest international
campaign, endorsed by the British Minister for
Sports, aims to fight childhood obesity.
campaign entitled "Get Active" encourages
schoolchildren to buy chocolate bars and collect
wrapper tokens to exchange for free sports equipment
for their school. With 5440 wrappers a school
can buy a set of volleyball net posts. That's
a million calories! How much volleyball would
you need to play to burn that off?
put their reward system in health terms, the 160
million tokens available equate to nearly 2 million
kilograms of fat. All in the name of getting fit
this campaign hasn't hit Australian shores, it
appears that more and more junk food companies
are being welcomed by sporting associations.
Krispy Kreme, the doughnut maker, has quickly
made an impact. Only months ago, we were publicly
questioning whether with our dietary problems,
we should be allowing such high-fat doughnuts
onto our shores. This year, however, many sporting
associations are asking their young players to
sell them as a fund-raiser.
know of at least three sports groups in the Sutherland
Shire which ask parents to buy 12 doughnuts for
$11 - they recommend every family buy five dozen
- and take a cut of the profits made.
all now know that a poor diet leads to children
becoming overweight and obese, affecting the child
both in the early years of life as well as contributing
to heart disease, stroke and other health issues
later in life.
the problem seems to be getting worse.
only is childhood obesity continuing to rise at
an alarming rate, but a recent Australian study
has shown that an unhealthy lifestyle is causing
hardening of the arteries in children as young
initiatives are looking to schools to address
the problem. The Government's recent Healthy Canteen
campaign is looking at getting junk food out of
our school tuckshops by the end of the year.
must be considered, however, is that children
don't just learn at school and they don't just
learn from teachers. The attitudes of parents
and other significant people in a child's life
send powerful messages.
it's for reward or fund-raising purposes, a coach
endorsing junk food sends a powerful message to
a five- year-old.
picture in our minds as adults is that we are
providing a wonderful healthy lifestyle for our
children with weekend sports and weekday training.
That we are helping them to establish healthy
patterns both for now and for later life. In reality
we're painting a different picture.
junk food in this "healthy" context
is crossing out the benefits. Junk food is the
seedy side of children's sport. If we aim to really
tackle the childhood obesity problem we need to
address the problem on all fronts.
Dwyer is a lecturer at the School of Education
and Early Childhood Studies at the University
of Western Sydney.
of Western Sydney