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Cadbury wants children to eat two million kg of fat - to get fit

29th April, 2003

The government has endorsed a commercial scheme to promote fatty, sugary snacks to primary and secondary school children. The Food Commission investigates.

In May 2003, Cadbury's is set to launch a major marketing drive, to get children to exchange chocolate wrappers for school sports equipment. The initiative will be called Get Active! and will be in partnership with the Youth Sports Trust, a registered charity which aims to increase children's participation in sport.

To save up for the top item on offer - a set of volleyball net posts - a school will need to encourage pupils to spend over £2,000 on chocolate, consuming nearly one-and-a-quarter million chocolatey calories!

If British school children purchase all of the 160 million tokens that Cadbury's plan to issue, they would have to purchase nearly two million kilograms of fat.

The scheme has received official government support, with sports minister Richard Caborn expressing his endorsement of the scheme in a Cadbury's press release. However, the scheme has already prompted criticism from the National Union of Teachers and many health experts.

With growing concerns about children's health, and major efforts underway to help children learn to enjoy healthier food, the government's sports ministry has failed to make the link between good diet, good health and sporting achievement. Instead, in the near-obsessional quest to attract private finance into the education system, they have fallen into the trap of believing that any source of funding for school equipment is acceptable - whatever the health outcome.

cadburyStacking up the profits: We estimate that Cadbury hope to sell over £67 million worth of confectionery to school children through the Get Active! campaign.

In the Cadbury's press release, sports minister Richard Caborn is quoted as saying: "I am delighted that Cadbury is prepared to support this drive to get more young people active by providing equipment and resources for schools. In partnership we could make a real difference to the quality of young people's lives."

Did the Minister know…

...how much chocolate school children would need to buy? Maybe the sports minister didn't bother to work this out, or didn't think to ask. We found that Cadbury's intend to issue at least 160 million bars of chocolate publicising this promotion. To see what this means nutritionally, see the table below.

...how much exercise it takes to burn off the calories? Calorie-use and calorie-needs vary according to the size, weight and metabolism of the child. However, even a conservative estimate shows that a ten-year-old child consuming enough chocolate to earn a basketball through the Cadbury's scheme would need to play basketball for 90 hours to burn off the calories; a junior basketball team would have to play for 18 hours (27 full length games).

...how the scheme will affect schools? Not only are there the potential health problems for children, there are costs to staff. A survey of school librarians participating in the Walkers Crisps Books for School token scheme (1999) showed that a great deal of staff time was spent collecting and counting thousands of food wrappers. As one Sheffield librarian commented: "I don't ever want to see a crisp packet again in my life!"

...how chocolate fits into healthy school policies? It doesn't. There are plenty of opportunities for children to eat these foods outside school if they and their parents wish - school is no place for such promotions. Endorsing a scheme that exhorts primary and secondary school children to collect millions of chocolate bar wrappers contravenes the spirit and purpose of whole-school food policies. Such policies ensure that consistent health and nutrition messages are used throughout the school - whether in the canteen, in menu preparation, in the curriculum or in choosing which companies to work with.

...how the scheme reveals joined-up thinking in government? It doesn't. Government departments of health and education have been working on ways to protect children's health through initiatives such as nutrition guidelines for school meals, increased sports activities in the curriculum, and the Healthy Schools Standard. Perhaps the Minister should pick up the phone and chat to his colleagues at the Department of Health and the Department of Education about the concept of contradictory policies.

Without proper consultation between government departments and a genuine commitment to putting public money into school health initiatives we are likely to see more of the same.

Snickers-sponsored health advice to budding footballers? McDonald's-sponsored sports fields? Nestlé-sponsored sports colleges? Pepsi using the England football squad and the FA Cup in its marketing campaigns until the summer of 2006, and sponsoring the FA Youth Cup and the FA County Youth Cup? All of these schemes are already underway or in the pipeline.

Slip-up reveals Cadbury's thinking

Cadbury's press release for the launch of the marketing scheme included the statement 'Chocolate is there to be enjoyed and it can form the basis of a balanced diet.' The basis of a balanced diet? Or an addition to a balanced diet? When challenged, Cadbury's said that they had meant to state: 'Chocolate is there to be enjoyed in moderation as part of a balanced diet'.

Such slip-ups can sometimes reveal how far a company would like to be able to push its product - not only as a treat food, but as a regular part of children's diets. What better way than to get schools to encourage children to collect millions of tokens from millions of chocolate bars.

Calculating the cost to children

We took the average fat content, the average calorie content and the average price of the chocolate bars from which children will need to save tokens in order to 'earn' their sports equipment under the Cadbury's scheme. The bars on which tokens will appear are: Cadbury's Crunchie, Fruit & Nut, Flake, Double Decker, Snow Flake, Dairy Milk, Caramel, TimeOut, Dream, Whole Nut, Wispa and Buttons (single and multi-packs).

The average calorie content of each bar is 226.25; the average fat content is 12.3g and from several sample purchases, we estimate the average cost of a chocolate bar to be about 42p.

Note that we are unable to say how much sugar children would consume when participating in Cadbury's marketing scheme. Cadbury's choose not to reveal the sugar content of their products on its labels, but describe it, along with any starch content, as healthy sounding 'carbohydrate'.

Using these figures, we calculated that to earn a single netball, worth about £5, primary school children would need to spend just under £40 on chocolate, consume over a kilogram of fat, and over 20,000 calories.

To earn the most expensive item Cadbury's has to offer (a set of posts for a volleyball net) secondary school children would need to eat 5,440 chocolate bars containing over 33kg of fat and nearly one-and-a-quarter million calories. That's over 900 chocolate bars for each member of the volleyball team!

Cadbury's marketing scheme includes dozens of different sports items that can be earned for a school by collecting tokens from chocolate wrappers. We selected some of the branded items which represented a range of goods available for different numbers of tokens. The table below shows the results.

 

 

The hidden costs of Cadbury's Get Active! campaign
Examples of equipment on offer
Number of tokens (chocolate bars consumed)
Total number of calories consumed (average 226.5 calories per bar)
Total amount of fat consumed+ (average fat 12.3g per bar)
Amount of money spent on chocolate (based on average of 42p per bar)
Value of equipment*
Primary schools
1 netball (brand: Firstouch)
90
20,363 kcal
1,107g (about 1kg)
£38
£5
1 basketball (brand: Firstouch)
170
38,463 kcal
2,091g (about 2kg)
£71
£10
1 volleyball (brand: Molten)
320
72,400 kcal
3,936g (nearly 4kg)
£134
£18
Secondary schools
1 cricket set (brand: Inter)
2,730
617,663kcal (over half a million)
33,579g (over 33kg)+
£1,147
£150
1 set of posts for volleyball net (brand: Wheelaway)
5,440
1,230,800 kcal (over a million and a quarter)
66,912g (nearly 67 kg)
£2,285
£350

Total promotion
160 million
36,200,000,000 (over 36 billion)
1,968,000kg
£67,200,000
+ Note: to help you visualise these amounts of fat, 33kg of fat weighs approximately the same as a healthy 10-year-old child.
* Prices are from the online sports equipment store www.newitts.com

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