Can junk food ads, clubs told

HEALTH advocates say the state government should offer funding incentives for junior sporting organisations to cut junk food advertising.

But the Tasmanian Liberals say sponsorship is the responsibility of clubs, and parents should ensure that their children eat a balanced diet.

A study published in the  Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport  this month said children aged five to 14 who took part in rugby league, cricket and Little Athletics were most at risk of ``excessive'' exposure to unhealthy messages through sponsorship by companies such as McDonald's and Coca-Cola.

Lead author Bridget Kelly, a lecturer in public health at Wollongong University, said ``pervasive exposure'' in supposedly healthy environments sent contradictory messages to children.

Fast-food restaurant McDonald's sponsors junior football, soccer, and netball in Northern Tasmania, and is the major sponsor of Tasmanian Little Athletics.

According to their websites, Northern Tasmania Junior Football Association is also backed by Cadbury, while Northern Tasmania Junior Soccer promotes Schweppes soft drinks, and Cricket Tasmania promotes Coca-Cola and Peters Ice Cream.

With the 2011-12 Australian Health Survey First Result listing 28.8 per cent of Tasmanian kids aged 5 to 17 as overweight or obese, Heart Foundation Tasmania chief executive Graeme Lynch suggested the state government offer clubs and organisations incentives to drop sugary drinks and fast food as sponsors.

``What's a real worry is that children are very vulnerable, and that advertising can lead them directly to consuming things,'' Mr Lynch said. A Liberals spokesman said while the party aimed to make Tasmania the healthiest population in Australia by 2025, sponsorship was at the discretion of clubs.

Tasmania Little Athletics president Rhonda O'Sign said McDonald's had helped more children get involved in the sport.

``At the forefront of our sponsorship with McDonald's are their community programs, their charity organisations, such as Ronald McDonald House,'' Ms O'Sign said. ``We don't tell members that they have to go into McDonald's stores. The food is completely separate.''

Northern Tasmania Junior Soccer president Dale Rigby said it was more dangerous for kids to be prevented from playing sport because of high registration fees.

``Any sponsorship dollar we get helps us maintain current fee levels, not stinging people every year and potentially preventing people from accessing the sport,'' he said. But Hobart man Aaron Schultz, whose project Game Changer targets unhealthy advertising in sport, said the government needed to be tougher. 

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