Beckham, Rooney and Lampard fill their boots as a nation gorges

England stars accused of helping to fuel the nation's obesity crisis by promoting cheap beer, burgers and snacks
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The Independent Online

England's star players have been accused of turning Euro 2004 into a festival of junk food and alcohol.

England's star players have been accused of turning Euro 2004 into a festival of junk food and alcohol.

While the country's armchair football fans stock up for what promises to be the most calorific soccer tournament yet, MPs and food campaigners are laying into the England squad for endorsing burgers and fizzy drinks, products linked to the national obesity crisis.

McDonald's and Coca-Cola are two of the England team's main financial sponsors. Captain David Beckham has a six-figure deal to promote Pepsi and Wayne Rooney is fronting an advertising campaign for Pringles crisps. Michael Owen, star striker and the face of Asda, is being used to sell cut-price beer.

Supermarkets are predicting record sales of cheap alcohol and burgers during the three weeks of Euro 2004.

"The message is, 'sit down with a lot of beer and food and get fat'," said David Hinchliffe, chair of the Commons Select Committee on Health and Labour MP for Wakefield.

"I find it tragic that the England team is so closely involved with sugar-dense products when, as a nation, we're in the situation we're in because of those products," he said. "Sporting icons have a duty to use their status to promote healthy lifestyles and positive messages. What we have with England is exactly the opposite. People like the FA have got to start looking at their responsibilities."

Britain has the fastest growing child obesity problem in Western Europe, and ministers are said to be considering a ban on junk food adverts targeted at children.

A recent report on obesity from Mr Hinchliffe's health committee warned today's overweight children could be the first generation to die before their parents. He cited the case of a three-year-old whose extreme weight caused a fatal heart attack.

In Scotland, Coca-Cola has responded to government pressure by removing its cans from school vending machines and replacing them with water and fruit juice.

A range of companiesis trying to get in on the football act. Kellogg's is promoting cereal bowls decorated with a football motif for products including Frosties, which contain 40 per cent sugar. Kit Kat, Lion, Aero, Toffee Crisp and Yorkie chocolate bars, all made by Nestlé Rowntree, offer a "chants to win" £20 in a scheme sponsored by former England player Ian Wright.

Sainsbury's, the official Euro 2004 supermarket, whose adverts feature England midfielder Frank Lampard, is offering 57 per cent reductions on multi-packs of beer until the tournament ends.

McDonald's spent £32.5m last year on television adverts, Coca-Cola spent £13m and Pringles £7m. Football is particularly valued as an advertising vehicle because it reaches boys, a class of consumer thought impervious to advertising.

In recent years, a number of soccer players and ex-players have advertised snacks and fast food. Alan Shearer has promoted McDonald's, Gary Lineker, Michael Owen and Roy Keane have backed Walkers Crisps while Gareth Southgate, Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle appeared in adverts for Pizza Hut.

Kath Dalmeny, policy officer with the Food Commission campaign group, said: "Football is always used as an opportunity to sell vast amounts of fat and sugar. It's highly dishonest of sports people to help promote the kind of foods they would not themselves eat in the lead-up to a game."

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