Tuesday 21 January 2020

Doctor brands chocolate firm's camp as 'sinister'

Obesity expert tells Government and charities not to accept cash from confectioners

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Stock picture
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

A leading obesity expert has criticised the Cadbury chocolate company's mission to encourage children "to get outdoors" for a day of physical activity in the midst of Ireland's obesity crisis.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Prof Donal O'Shea questioned the damage confectionery firms are doing to the health of young children, while at the same time funding children's charities and events.

Prof O'Shea, lead clinician for a hospital-based multi-disciplinary obesity service at St Vincent's University Hospital, Dublin, warned the companies "want to get kids when they are young" and said confectionery firm-run activity camps are "genius from their point of view. It is sinister and cynical and planned".

His views come as Cadbury announced "everyone's favourite chocolate frog [Freddo]" is on a "mission to promote and encourage children and families to get outdoors and make the most of life and the adventures on offer".

The camp is the latest outdoor activity centre run by a confectionery food company, following Tayto Park Ireland.

On a chocolate company running a children's activity camp, he said Cadbury "has to be seen to be doing something about the obesity epidemic at a corporate level, so they will see the camp as something that will tick that box".

He added: "There is an obesity epidemic and a 10-fold rise in the number of kids who are obese that is being driven by their industry. So Cadbury is in a difficult position because they can only promote physical activity to get healthy because if they promote 'eating less', then their market gets hit."

The industry argues there is more to the obesity epidemic than food intake, but Prof O'Shea warned that the poor quality of our food consumption is 70pc of the problem.

Addressing the Freddo chocolate theme park, which will feature canoeing, biking, picnicking and zip-lining, he said: "Everything [confectionery food companies] do is aimed at improving product visibility and advertising for a younger age group. They want to get kids when they are young."

He warned that Government and leading charities now need to take responsibility and stop accepting money from the industry.

"Ronald McDonald sponsoring a wing at the new children's hospital and Coca-Cola and the Just Eat fast-food service sponsoring Dublin bikes is all more of the same behaviour," he said. "There is no doubt about it, I think that charities and the Government should say 'no thank you' where it is appropriate."

Asked if he tires of speaking out against confectionery food tactics, he said: "No, for two reasons. First of all, we are meeting people on a daily basis who are in the position they are because of this toxic-obesogenic environment, so you simply can't afford to tire of it. I get energy from seeing the patients who struggle.

"And the second reason I don't get tired is that it's just fascinating to see the tactics the industry use. They are really good at what they do and these are examples of that. They don't get tired of it, therefore we can't either."

Speaking about a recent visit to Tayto Park, he said: "I have been there and it's a lovely day out with the family but you end up with crisps coming out of your ears.

"There are crisps collection points. It is extraordinary and I would liken the Freddo chocolate healthy day to being something very similar to what Tayto are doing at Tayto Park, which is massive advertising and branding."

A spokesperson for Cadbury said: "Camp Freddo is a family event and all promotional material for it is aimed at parents. Cadbury does not market to children and always promotes responsible consumption. Cadbury Ireland has been involved in fund-raising for Barnardos for many years and is very proud to assist the organisation."

Tayto Park declined to comment.

Sunday Independent

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