Healthier food at sports events – an action guide for sports event organisers

By Rachel White

Rachel is a registered dietitian who graduated in 2016 from Kings College London. She works part time in the NHS working with oncology patients, but has worked across a number of medical specialties including intensive care, surgery and respiratory. She also runs her own company Rachel White Nutrition providing sports nutrition advice to athletes. Rachel joined Nutritank as Lead Dietitian in March 2021 to help promote evidence based nutrition for medics and support the wider team with this mission. She believes that increased nutrition training for Doctors and medical students will not only enhance the care provided to their patients but also improve collaborations with dietitians and registered nutritionists. In her free time you will often find Rachel trail running – preferably running up some hills, cycling or baking cakes.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has published a new action guide for sports event organisers. This publication was developed in collaborations with the Ministry of Public Health in Qatar. It is directed at sports events organisers to improve their food offerings at events and stadia.

The report highlights the association between sports-related marketing and sponsorships and food offerings. This is notable within sport in the UK, the Football Association (FA) were sponsored by MacDonald’s for 20 years. Their partnership ended in 2022, however they still have a number of other food and drink sponsors on board including: Coca-Cola, Budweiser, Snickers, and Walkers.

A notable one in recent years has been the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) The Hundred series partnering with KP Snacks, each team having a different snack in the prominent spot on their kit. From Hula hoops to Popchips you cannot miss the recognisable logos on their tops. The introduction of The Hundred competition in 2019 was a bid by the ECB to try increase interest and participation in the sport; this has been predominantly focused at younger audiences. Whilst I have to say I do enjoy The Hundred competition, is the advertising inappropriate from a public health perspective? Exposure to HFSS product advertising helps to normalise regular consumption of these products, which is only going to contribute to the obesity epidemic.

Put aside the sponsorship debate, provision of food and drink at sports venues are typically high in fat, sugars or salt. Whilst it is important to acknowledge that food and drink consumed at sports events is only a very small proportion of overall intake, this shouldn’t mean that there should not be a variety of healthy food options available.

The new WHO document proposes five actions to help organisers to achieve healthier food and healthier food environments, these are:

  1. Improving the food offer
  2. Setting prices to incentivize consumption of healthier food choices
  3. Nudging to promote healthier food choices
  4. Communications to promote healthier food and healthy diets
  5. Restricting marketing of foods and beverages high in sugar, unhealthy fats and salt.

The document outlines how these can be achieved in the planning, operations and post-event phases of sports events. They acknowledge that these actions may be difficult to implement quickly or all at once, but this is to help organisers make positive steps in the right direction.

This collaboration was commenced prior to the 2022 Men’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar, where they ensured that more than 30% of the menu items served had a healthy nutritional profile in line with WHO standards. Throughout the report they highlight how this was implemented in line with their action recommendations.

Whilst this may seem such a small area to focus on don’t forget the high visibility and influence that sports events have worldwide. They have such a wide reach, so there is a really valuable opportunity to create perceptions of healthier foods and drinks at events. Sports events organisers have an opportunity to be a driving force for healthier food which can ultimately help promote a healthier lifestyle.

Read the full report here:

Share this post