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Australia’s future Olympic stars targeted by unhealthy sports sponsorship

13th July 2016 - Cancer prevention


Majority of food and beverage sponsors in kids’ sport classified as unhealthy

New research released by Cancer Council NSW today has revealed that almost 90 per cent of food and beverage sponsors of children’s sports development programs in Australia are classified as unhealthy, with brands including McDonald’s, Schweppes, Gatorade and Nutrigrain all currently competing for brand exposure in kids’ sport.[1]

The first of its kind in Australia, this new study analysed 246 sponsors across 56 junior sport development programs, highlighting the extent that Australia’s sporting stars of the future are being targeted by unhealthy sponsors, including fast food, soft drinks and sugary cereal.[2]

All of the unhealthy food and beverage sponsors identified in Cancer Council NSW’s study had logo placements on the homepage of the junior development sport program they were sponsoring. Further, about one-third had naming rights to the development program (e.g. Nippy’s Spikezone), and the same proportion gave out branded participant packs to kids (e.g. Milo in2cricket and McDonald’s for Platypus Lagoon swimming) and branded equipment (e.g. McDonald’s for junior cricket).

McDonald’s took podium position in kids’ sports sponsorship, having been found at the time of the study to be sponsoring three separate junior sports programs across the country.

Kathy Chapman, Director of Cancer Programs at Cancer Council NSW said that with the majority of food and beverage company sponsors in kids’ sport development programs associated with unhealthy products, these sponsorships are undermining the healthy lifestyle that the programs aim to promote.

“As the nation gears up for Olympic fever, with Cadbury, McDonalds and Coca Cola the worldwide sponsors, it is alarming to see that hundreds of thousands of our young sporting hopefuls and fans are continually targeted by these unhealthy brands at every level.

“We know that children are a major target market for advertising, as they influence their parents’ spending, have their own money to spend, and have the potential to become brand-loyal. The more children are engaged in a sport, sport team, or with an athlete, the greater the influence that junk food sponsorship will have on a child.

“Even the most iconic Australian sporting programs are engaging with unhealthy sponsors. Kids involved in ‘Little Athletics’ have the greatest exposure to unhealthy sponsorship, including McDonald’s in most states, a confectionary company in Tasmania and Gatorade and Schweppes drinks in Victoria. Similarly, Surf Lifesaving’s Nippers are exposed to a range of unhealthy sponsors, including Schweppes soft drinks, and Kellogg’s Nutrigrain.

“Interviews of 10-14 year olds have found they think of food and drink companies that sponsor their club and favourite team as ‘cool’. They even said they’d like to return the favour to these sponsors by buying their products.”[3]

The good news is that not all sponsors of kids’ sport are promoting unhealthy foods, with other organisations like Jetstar and ANZ Bank supporting kids’ sports development programs.

“Unfortunately, sporting organisations can be so reliant on corporate sponsorships that they feel like they have no other choice but to partner with big food brands,” continued Ms Chapman.

“For the food companies, sponsoring kids’ sport is also a big PR win, by being seen to support local community and promoting physical activity.

“Sports settings offer an ideal opportunity to promote healthy behaviours, and I doubt the best athletes eat the junk foods that are associated with their sporting codes and events. Cancer Council wants sponsorship of children’s sport programs included in food marketing regulation to reduce the impact that unhealthy food marketing has on children.”

Cancer Council NSW is encouraging Australians to get behind the rejection of unhealthy sports development sponsorship by visiting

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Media Contact: Laura Cairnduff, PR Manager, Cancer Council NSW / 02 9334 1408 / 0413 889 283


Media Interviews: Kathy Chapman, Director of Cancer Programs at Cancer Council NSW


Notes to Editor

Cancer Council NSW’s study, Sponsorship of junior sport development programs in Australia was published in Australian & New Zealand Journal for Public Health.

While low in actual numbers, the food and beverage companies that sponsor junior development programs sell primarily unhealthy products. The marketing of these products reach hundreds of thousands of Australian children each year. They are big brands sponsoring popular sports and iconic development programs.

As this study was originally conducted in 2015, Cancer Council NSW has since updated the examples of kids’ sports sponsorship to align with the current situation. A summary of these examples is below, and further information is available on request. 

 The situation as of February 2016:

  • Little Athletics had the largest number of unhealthy food sponsors, McDonald’s in most states, a confectionary company in Tasmania, Gatorade and Schweppes drinks in Victoria.
  • The naming rights partnership between McDonald’s and Basketball Victoria’s Junior Development Programs, including Hoop Time have been discontinued but McDonald’s will continue their partnership with Basketball Victoria through branded equipment for 2016.
  • The Nippers Surf Lifesaving program is found within the Surf Lifesaving website and states have a range of unhealthy sponsors, including Schweppes.
  • Swimming Queensland has sponsorship arrangements with McDonalds and the Platypus Lagoon program is highly branded with McDonald’s welcome kits.
  • Nippy’s, a beverage company that supplies a range of milk, juice and sports drinks and mineral waters has naming rights to South Australian Spikezone volleyball.
  • Food sponsors of the Australian Olympic team are Coca Cola, McDonald’s and Cadburys

Children’s sports development websites examples:


[1] Watson WL, Brunner R, Wellard L, Hughes C, Sponsorship of junior sport development programs in Australia, Aust NZ J Public Health. 2016; Online; doi: 10.1111/1753-6405.12541

[2] Food and beverage sponsors were considered unhealthy if they failed independent nutrient criteria. Of the 246 sponsors identified, 9 were food or beverage sponsors, of which 8 were unhealthy. Although food and beverage sponsors make up a small percentage, those companies sell primarily unhealthy products.

[3] Kelly B, Baur LA, Bauman AE, King L, Chapman K, Smith BJ. “Food company sponsors are kind, generous and cool”: (Mis)conceptions of junior sports players. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2011; 8(95).

Cancer prevention