Our international and interdisciplinary study is examining how physical activity and nutritional health are promoted at sports mega events.
The PHANSMER Project (Physical Activity and Nutrition at Sport Mega Events Research) involves researchers from Loughborough University in the UK, France’s Paris Descartes University, Brazil’s Federal University of Minas Gerais and Universidade Federal do Paraná- UFPR.
Dr Joe Piggin says: “These health issues are so complex that we are using an interdisciplinary approach to understand more about them. We draw on theories and ideas of public policy, marketing, sociology, event management and nutrition. An important dimension is the international aspect. Mega sports events such as the Euro 2016 and the Olympic Games are significant global events where certain messages about consumption and health are disseminated to hundreds of millions of people. With the current issues regarding physical inactivity and poor nutrition, this study hopes to inform better health promotion during these events.”
“It seems fair to say that a whole generation was not totally inspired by recent mega events, so we need to examine the political, economic and marketing processes involved in hosting these events.”
“It is clear that companies leverage their sponsorship many months before events start. For example, three months before the start of the Olympics, cereal companies and yoghurt companies were associating themselves with the Olympic Games. Given that foods high in sugar are often criticised for their contribution to poor health, these sponsorship contracts need to be carefully managed and critiqued.”
“This is obviously a contentious issue. The World Health Organisation has been very critical of food and drink companies being involved with sports. The WHO has told all member states that settings where children and adolescents gather (such as sports facilities and events) should be free of marketing from unhealthy foods and sugar-sweetened beverages. This obviously has implications for mega sports events, which are often used to inspire young people. Clearly there are tensions and conflicting interests to manage. On one hand companies are lambasted for being promoting unhealthy products to consumers. And on the other hand, corporate sponsors are often lauded as being essential in making the events happen at all.”
On international collaboration: “To have experts from Paris Descartes University, Federal University of Minas Gerais and the Universidade Federal do Paraná is brilliant. They provide insider knowledge about their cultures and can also help disseminate the findings amongst their own communities. Collaboration on a project like this is vital!”
Areas of focus: In this decade, there has been an expansion and intensification of interventions to produce more physically active populations. This has coincided with growing concern about a range of more attention given to various hazards and harms associated with participating in sport.
Physical activity and nutrition promotion is complex. This international and cross-cultural interdisciplinary research will focus on four important stakeholder groups:
1) Public policy makers and their ongoing responses to changing attitudes towards health.
2) Food and drink companies which sponsor mega events and which might be affected by, and try to affect government public health policies.
3) The messages disseminated by mega event organisers, who both accommodate food and drink sponsors and often promote messages about healthy living.
4) The public, who are the ultimate recipients of messages about public health.
Dr Haifa Tlili, from Paris Descartes University, said: “This intercultural study is trying to understand how health problems are managed in different cultural contexts and to show how different groups manage and negotiate it.
“Health promotion always takes place within a broader context, often involving political pressure, conflict and tension. We explore how various stakeholders (such as sport, political, health and economic partners) are able to balance what are, at times, competing interests. Further, we ask, does policy rhetoric always turn into practical action?
“The study’s strength is its sociological emphasis. The objective includes understanding and raising awareness of how health issues are managed at sports events. We position individuals at the core of the study because, in this field, economic logic can dominate and make us forget the complex reality. For example, what is the impact of different stakeholders on spectators at Euro 2016 and elsewhere? And what is the effect of local health laws at these events? Are they compromised?
“We also examine how social traditions are managed in relation to companies which are often afforded a large amount of control at sports events. For example, our analysis shows that at Euro 2016, many food products were far from traditional French food habits/tastes. Examining this will help us clarify what visions of health are presented at sports events.”