Professor Chris Whitty has accused junk food advertising within sport of harming efforts to combat the UK’s obesity crisis following a Telegraph Sport investigation.
England’s Chief Medical Officer became the biggest name yet to denounce the promotion of fatty and sugary food and drinks brands in the industry amid clear evidence linking the country’s record coronavirus death rate to obesity.
He did so during a lecture on Wednesday in which he cited the findings of a Telegraph Sport investigation that revealed how a rise in junk-food advertising in sport had coincided with increases in unhealthy eating and inactivity during a year of national lockdowns.
Those findings sparked calls for curbs on such advertising — particularly within children’s sport — something Prof Whitty suggested would help reverse the tide of rising obesity levels.
In the lecture at Gresham College, entitled ‘What Can We Do About Rising Obesity?’, Whitty used a slide featuring the Telegraph investigation and the sports sponsorships it highlighted.
Branding them something that “would really not be” wanted when trying to tackle obesity, he said: “All the companies that are there sell foods that people want but they are very high calorie — often calorie-dense foods — and they’re associating it with sport, which is actually an unhelpful thing to associate it with, particularly for younger people.”
Prof Whitty said vulnerable people were being “bombarded” by “huge” marketing of unhealthy products and cited as “possible” state intervention restrictions on sports advertising and direct advertising to children.
Citing the Sugar Tax as a “very small state intervention” that had made a positive impact, he added: “If you do lots of things with effects of the sizes of this sort then you will end up with us being able to go back down the curve.
“We can go back to a situation where obesity stabilises and then is falling.”