Commercial Determinants of Health: Advertising of Alcohol and Unhealthy Foods during Sporting Events
Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), including cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, cancers and type 2 diabetes, cause an estimated 41 million deaths per year globally, of which 15 million occur between the ages of 30 to 70 years. However, most of these premature deaths are avoidable and NCDs prevention is thus a global priority.
The main prevention strategies focus on the risks associated with poor diet, tobacco use, alcohol consumption and physical inactivity. In NCDs prevention, an emphasis is often placed on lifestyles and personal responsibility for addressing risk factors. This approach ignores the limited control that many people have over their circumstances and their exposure to the marketing activities of transnational corporations.
Sport is often presented as a way for people to lead more active, healthier lives. Yet, companies producing alcohol, often market their products through professional sports leagues, in competitions and events across the world.
The study applies a public health perspective to the commercial sponsorship of sport. The researchers suggest that policy-makers who wish to reverse the NCDs burden should consider how sport has been used to promote products that harm health and whether regulation may be required to control this marketing.
Commercial Determinants of Health
Health is not only determined by biological and genetic factors, but by the socioeconomic context of people’s lives, including income levels and educational standards. Corporate activity, such as marketing of harmful goods including alcohol, also affects health. Commercial determinants of health are defined as “factors that influence health which stem from the profit motive.”
In the 1970s, the then president of FIFA, was taking advantage of the World Cup’s global television market to develop corporate sponsorship. This sponsorship was segmented by product type, including Budweiser® as the official beer sponsor from 1986.
However, public health professionals have rarely noted the ethical issues and conflicts of interest involved in the commercial sponsorship of the games until recent events like the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Assessing the food and drinks promoted at the 2016 Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Championship, researchers noted that unhealthy food and drink products dominated inside the stadium and sponsors included companies such as Carlsberg Group.
Professional sport represents a profitable global entertainment industry. Multinational corporations use the visibility and widespread appeal of sports to promote their brands and products to mass audiences. Yet, public health professionals rarely discuss the nature of this influence in professional sport and the methods by which global corporations use sporting events, leagues and clubs to sell products harmful to health. Sponsors for these sports include the beer company Anheuser-Busch InBev and the whiskey company Jack Daniel’s.
There is clear scope for action by policy-makers to reduce the impact of commercial interests, amplified through sport, on population health.
The authors encourage research of the relationships between sport and its commercial sponsors, notably the companies producing alcohol, sugar-sweetened beverages, and food high in fat, salt and sugar. They suggest that the sports industry embrace a socially-responsible approach to commercial sponsorship and advertising, an approach which emphasizes the future health of sports’ fans, families and communities.