Doctors condemn Olympic athletes' endorsement of junk food

RCGP chairwoman Professor Clare Gerada has joined leading health professionals ahead of the London 2012 Olympics to condemn sports stars who advertise junk food.

Professor Clare Gerada: Olympics is chance to promote health
Professor Clare Gerada: Olympics is chance to promote health

In a letter to The Times today, doctors and teachers joined celebrity chef Jamie Oliver in criticising role models for their endorsement of unhealthy foods.

Professor Gerada said that on the eve of the Olympics, athletes should be showcasing the importance of health and fitness.

‘It might be timely to remind athletes therefore of the power that they have when endorsing junk food which contributes to our rising levels of obesity, especially among our children,’ said Professor Gerada.

Professor Terence Stephenson, past president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said: ‘The Olympic organisers should seek to renegotiate sponsorship for future games.’

The letter acknowledges that celebrity sponsorship deals are worth millions of pounds, but health professionals and teachers urge sporting role models to think about the adverse effect that their endorsements have on the lives of children.

Dr Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist in London, said: ‘The very lucrative financial gain for these athletes is sadly at the expense of our children’s health and we shall not allow this to continue.’

The letter calls on celebrities to think of the physical, social and emotional effects of obesity that the consumption of the products they advertise is causing.

Charlie Powell, director of the Children’s Food Campaign, said: ‘It is highly disingenuous to try to present unhealthy foods in a positive light by linking them with our sporting celebrities.’

According to Dr Hilary Cass, president of the RCPCH: ‘Instead of glamorising junk food, athletes should be using their influence to inspire children and young people to become tomorrow’s top athletes by eating well and leading active lifestyles.’

‘With celebrity status comes responsibility,’ Dr Cass adds.

Steve Iredale, president of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: ‘I would ask those involved to reflect carefully on the potential consequences of their actions and instead work together to help to improve the health and life chances of those who are so vulnerable.’

Editor's blog: Success (or failure) of Olympics and NHS commercialisation depends on us

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