The Sport Diet: Food and Beverage Marketing in Public Recreation Facilities

Like many Canadians, you probably watched at least a few moments of the 2016 Olympic Games. You might remember Penny Oleksiak winning gold, silver, and bronze. You probably also recall advertisements for Olympic partners, like Coca-Cola. What might be less obvious is food marketing in sports centres close to home.

Researchersi recently measured food and beverage marketing in public recreation facilities in Canada. They recorded promotional signs around the facility, including where kids play sports and buy food. They noted whether concession prices encouraged unhealthy purchases, and what kinds of foods were next to the cash register. The results were clear: unhealthy food and beverage marketing is present in public recreation facilities, not only in elite sports.

Researchers found that facilities promoted a food or beverage product, brand or retailer an average of 34 times. On average, children were directly targeted at least twice per facility. More than half of the advertisements promoted unhealthy products (sugary drinks, candy, chocolate, deep-fried foods). Only 26% promoted healthy products (water, fruit, milk, fresh groceries). Shockingly, more food marketing was found in sport areas, entrances, and hallways than in the concession!

Does promoting burger joints, sugary drinks, and deep-fried food make sense in public recreation facilities – a place that promotes health and fitness for all ages? Current research tells us that children in sport often consume more fast food and sugary drinks than non-active children. This may be associated with selling and marketing these foods in sports. Aren’t recreation facilities the place to encourage healthy eating that supports optimal performance and health?

Together, we can shift the “sport diet” in our communities. Ask your sport centre to restrict unhealthy food marketing in kids’ sports and promote only healthy foods and beverages. Visit Food Action in Recreation Environments to learn how to support healthy eating at your local recreation facility.

i. Heart & Stroke-funded research (the Eat, Play, Live Project) is measuring the food environments in public recreation facilities in 4 provinces. These results are preliminary/ unpublished.

By Rachel Prowse, Registered Dietitian and PhD Candidate in Health Promotion and Socio-Behavioural Sciences at the University of Alberta

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