Fast-food firms attacked over school deals
April 23 2003


     TEACHERS yesterday attacked fast food manufacturers who are "emotionally blackmailing" children via advertising campaigns and sponsorship deals targeted at schools.

Calls were made for a guaranteed 90 minutes of exercise per week in schools to combat the firms' attempts at encouraging children to eat unhealthy food - often to gain new equipment for schools.

Against a background of rising obesity among young people, a particular problem in Wales , delegates at the NUT annual conference in Harrogate said children had to be warned of the motives behind advertising aimed at them.

McDonald's, Pepsi and chocolate giant Cadbury were among the companies that came under fire.

Cadbury has linked up with the Youth Sport Trust, investing £8m in Get Active, a scheme aimed at persuading children to take more exercise, sparking criticism from the British Dietetic Association for the "mixed messages" sent to young people about foods that were high in fat and sugar.

So-called cause-related marketing by food manufacturers, such as the Walkers' crisps "Free Books for Schools" scheme, has led health campaigners and nutritionists to claim they were trying to make high sugar, high fat foods appear healthier than they are.

These comments from the NUT come just a day after research showed a third of children in Wales eat takeaway food a few times a week and 44% eat ready meals several times a week.

Gethin Lewis, secretary of NUT Cymru, said the growing links between companies and schools was a worrying trend.

"This issue affects all schools, especially in Wales , where because of the under-funding, they are becoming more and more dependent on sponsorship or help from commercial companies," he said.

"But of course these firms are only interested in increasing their profits.

"It's a sort of emotional blackmail when parents and children are receiving a message that they should eat junk food or buy certain fizzy drinks to get extra computers or books for their schools."

He added, "Such companies used to provide extras for schools, now they are providing essential equipment."

Mary Sheppard, director of Fitness Wales, said, "I think such schemes are a difficult ethical issue for schools.

"When these firms are offering schools money or incentives it's easy to be drawn down that route.

"They may think they can balance out the ill-health effects with the improved facilities.

"But in Wales child obesity and diabetes are growing problems, and if poor eating habits are combined with not enough exercise, there is evidence this can lead to conditions like osteoporosis in the future."

"Having a guaranteed amount of exercise during the school week would be a huge leap forward."

Referring to the Cadbury scheme, Chris Wilkin, a delegate from Coventry , said, "It is outrageous that in a supposedly advanced, industrialised society that essential resources for schools have to be acquired in this way.

"We must break marketing links between schools and private companies.

"We must provide information to enable parents and pupils to make better choices."

A Cadbury spokesperson said, "We are disappointed by the NUT's reaction, we think they have misunderstand the nature of our initiative.

"This is a long-term project to address the very serious issue of childhood inactivity and is recognised by educationalists, nutritionists and experts right across the field.

"We have deliberately made the redemption level low so that you can collect equipment with as little as 10 vouchers, and the sports equipment has been designed by the respected Youth Sport Trust."

Bitter taste left by sugar industry's attack on the WHO
Wednesday April 23, 2003

The Guardian

     Few readers will have been surprised at the vehement opposition from part of the food industry to the World Health Organisation's proposed new guidelines on healthy eating (Sugar industry threatens to scupper WHO, April 21). What is shocking about the attack is the timing. The world is facing the threat of a completely new infectious disease, caused by a previously unknown virus, which has already been transported outside its continent of origin. The WHO is performing a crucial role in coordinating the world's medical and scientific efforts to understand, contain and control this new disease.

     This effort has been astonishingly successful; through the cooperation of many laboratories, the causative virus has been definitively identi fied, its genome completely sequenced and laboratory tests developed. All this information is publically available and all within a few weeks of recognition of this new disease. The WHO deserves our thanks and our support, rather than attacks on its funding from an industry that not only puts its profits ahead of the health of its customers, but which seems indifferent to damaging our capacity to respond to potentially catastrophic global health threats.

Christopher Clegg

The sugar industry takes a page from the tobacco industry in its bullying tactics to suppress full, accurate and vital information to consumers to protect its bottom line. Not surprisingly, we see Kraft Foods, a tobacco subsidiary, involved. Too bad the World Sugar Organisation hasn't learned tobacco's lessons on liability for when obese diabetics around the world start suing. So far, the tobacco industry's most successful line of defence has been that people were warned about the health hazards. (Its Achilles' heel has been its failure to warn of how addictive it is.)

Sera Kirk

Vancouver , Canada

Ironically the disinformation campaign is led by the "fatness industry" in the country with the world's greatest obesity problems. At least I can cut my own direct sugar usage and, helped by improved food labeling, avoid processed food and drink with high sugar content. As ever, it is the ignorant and poor who will suffer from the sugar industry's rapacity.

Michael Miller


The US sugar industry does not want a drop in its sales. The WHO wants everybody to eat less sugar for a healthier diet. The US also has an insatiable thirst for fuel - we have just had a war in Iraq , in part, to secure fossil fuels. The answer seems simple. Convert the sugar into fuel, by methods already being used in other parts of the world. Fossil fuels will then last longer; the US diet will improve; the sugar industry will stay in full production. Everybody should be happy.