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Handing Out Energy Drinks At Kids' Sport Is A Load Of Red Bull

I want my kids' sport sugar-free, thanks.

22/08/2017 10:19 AM AEST | Updated 22/08/2017 10:19 AM AEST
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One of the simple pleasures of being a parent (depending on your point of view) is spending the weekend experiencing the careers of others under the guise of children's sport. Get the taxi ready to ferry kids back and forth to the venue. Be prepared to play the role of a medic with ice-pack and Band-Aids on hand to tend to the injured; coach, linesperson, part-time counsellor, particularly when the score line is lopsided; and caterer -- those oranges don't slice themselves.

However, the role I don't expect to have to play is that of public health advocate. I want my children to play sport in an environment that is free from the food politics that inhabits much of my own professional life.

So, imagine my disappointment... Scratch that. Imagine my disgust to see the relative serenity of the local soccer match ambushed by a couple of young people handing out free drinks high in sugar and caffeine to the families watching their kids playing soccer.

There is no doubt that parents have an important role to play in the healthy eating and drinking habits of their children. But where is the corporate responsibility of these beverage companies?

No doubt the company involved sees this as a clever marketing ploy -- captive parents and children on the sidelines, a warm sunny day -- who would say no to a free drink?

Fortunately, many people did. But the bigger question in my mind is the ethics of those in the beverage industry who think that this type of ambush marketing is acceptable.

An industry that is constantly looking at more creative ways to market their product to young children, with the full knowledge that Australia is in the midst of an obesity epidemic, not to mention the fact that two in five children have experienced tooth decay in their adult teeth by the age of 10-12 years. Problems that are directly linked to the consumption of sugary drinks.

Yet we see the food and beverage industry constantly preaching parental responsibility as the solution to these health problems. 'It's not our fault that people consume too much,' their spokespeople tell us. 'Beverage consumption is a personal choice.'

Interestingly enough, none of their slick marketing ever actually tells people that soft drinks contain up to 10 teaspoons of sugar in a single 375ml serve, or that you should only consume them in moderation.

There is no doubt that parents have an important role to play in the healthy eating and drinking habits of their children. But where is the corporate responsibility of these beverage companies? When will they see that they have a role to play here too, by not marketing directly to children, or associating their unhealthy products with sport?

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This type of marketing is actually in breach of the voluntary Australian Beverages Council's industry commitment on energy drinks, which provides guidelines for the responsible marketing and promotion of energy drinks that members agree to be bound by. These guidelines are meant to ensure that marketing and advertising activities of energy drinks are not directed at children.

In this instance, the promotion targeted what was clearly a junior sporting event where the participants were all children, and a large number of spectators were also children.

This is why everyone in public health has legitimate concerns about self-regulation and industry involvement in policy areas such as food labelling, advertising and the much-maligned 'Health Star Rating' system.

Industry is clearly not concerned with the health of their consumers. They are only interested in their own bottom line, and this compromises any role that they may have in shaping policies designed to improve health.

So next time Red Bull turns up at the local soccer game, I'll be suggesting they get their wings on and fly away. I want my kids sport sugar-free, thanks.

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