Guest: Dr Melissa Stoneham
Presenter: Wayne Bucklar
Guest Bio: Dr Melissa Stoneham has been the WA Director at the Public Health Advocacy Institute for nine years. She is also the principal of a Public Health Consultancy business. Dr. Stoneham has over 25 years’ experience in the fields of public and environmental health, with particular skills in the area of health promotion, public policy and advocacy. She has worked with and for local, state and commonwealth government agencies, universities, professional associations and international Aid organisations, WHO in Africa and Secretariat of Pacific Communities in Noumea, working in a range of fields including environmental health, occupational health, health promotion, health policy and advocacy.
Segment Overview: Being a public health advocate, Dr. Stoneham shares her views on the possible impact of a fast food chain sponsoring a national sports event, which means having billboards and advertisements promoting unhealthy food options for kids and adults. Just recently, Hungry Jacks has announced that it will be the new naming rights holder of the National Basketball League (NBL) for 2017 and 2018 season. Hungry Jacks is the Australian fast food franchise of Burger King Corporation, home of the famous Whopper burgers.
TRANSCRIPT – Hungry Jack’s Sponsorship
Wayne Bucklar: You’re listening to Health Professional Radio. My name is Wayne Bucklar and joining me in conversation today is Dr. Melissa Stoneham. Melissa is the Western Australian Director at the Public Health Advocacy Institute and she’s joining us today to talk about, well, a really interesting topic I think. It’s triggered by what happened recently with the National Basketball League. They’ve announced Hungry Jack’s as a naming rights partner and Melissa has a view about it and I’m keen to hear it. Melissa, welcome to the program.
Dr. Melissa Stoneham: Good morning, Wayne. How are you doing?
W: I’m really well. Thank you. Now, tell us why this is concerning you?
S: Well there’s a number of concerns we have, but to put it very simply, when a sponsor such as Hungry Jack’s which their main business is to sell fast food and that’s quite an unhealthy option for people. When they start to respond to teams like the NBL, so all that basketball teams which have a huge audience, both at the games and through media. They’re basically walking billboards for fast food companies and that really does start to normalize the fact that it’s okay for people to eat fast food as part of their daily habits. So we’re very concerned about that, but we also know that children are major targets for advertisers and kids also influence their parents’ spending. So the sponsorship of sport really does offer sport companies a way to expose kids to their brand and foster this connection between kids and the loyalty to their brand. So, they’re really looking at getting young people to be very loyal to brand, so that they will grow up with those brands as they get older and older. And we did some research on this, we did a study of kids aged between 5 and 12 and we found that most of them could associate their team sports with the products and the messages that are promoted through the sports and a lot of the kids think that the food and drink companies that sponsor their clubs or their favorite teams are cool. So if kids are starting to think that this is a good thing, they’ll probably be more likely to go out and purchase the food and we don’t mind kids eating junk food every so often, but if something they’re going to do on a regular basis then that’s when we’re starting to have concerns.
W: Now in fairness to the National Basketball League, this is not unique to them. But you mentioned drinks as well, and I presume it’s sugar that’s triggering the difficulty there.
S: Well actually it’s interesting you say that. Sugary drinks is one issue but we also looked at fast food, gambling and alcohol sponsors of sporting teams throughout with mostly Western Australia, but also some. We looked at the national AFL league to find out what sort of sponsorship the national football clubs were having. So, we’ve got all that information and I can certainly tell you who topped the ladder of unhealthy sponsorship in both the national and the Western Australian football clubs. If you’re interested in that, if you want me to name and shame, I’m happy to do that. We also looked at state of origin, because as you know, a Rugby League especially over in the Eastern States is a big event. And I think that there’s at least 4 million people that watch that series. So as you can see, the more sponsorship companies can have on signage at the fields and on uniform, the better exposure that they’ll have to a wider audience.
W: Now I’m old enough to remember the days when all of these teams were sponsored by tobacco companies and that slowly got over a number of years, has got ruled out and then became illegal. Is that the extent to which you’d like to see a community response to unhealthy food?
S: Yes. We’d like alcohol to be the next cab off the rank to go from alcohol and sports shouldn’t mix. And yes, fast food and gambling are the other two unhealthy activities that we would like to see taken away from sports. So the sport is then seen as a healthy activity with no mixed messages in the sport at all. So, yes, I can say that tobacco is gone, alcohol should be next followed closely by gambling and fast food.
W: Do you see the concern that the sporting teams have about being able to monetize their activities with limited sponsorship? Should those things be banned?
S: I absolutely understand. This is an economic factor for many of the sports clubs and that they do rely on these sponsors for huge amounts of finance that sponsor and promote their activity. But when we looked at our research, so let’s just take one of our research, we looked at 61 clubs and 29 of those had at least one unhealthy sponsor. So that means, that there’s quite a number of clubs that who have sponsors that are either neutral or healthy. So there are plenty of other options for clubs to pursue. So things like banks, gyms, healthy products such as fruit and veg, for example Coles, they’re now sponsoring Little Athletics. So it’s sort of a neutral brand, but there are lots of other options out there. And I think it’s timely for administrators of sporting clubs to really think about whether they want these unhealthy messages being portrayed through their healthy sport, because basically what sport does is, it encourages people to get out of the house, to run around, use up some energy, feel good about themselves, increase their mental health and the last thing we want for them to do after they played a great game sport is to go and have a burger or a sugary drink. So we would prefer that they try to get these unhealthy messages away from sports so that it can go back to it being a completely healthy thing, and active and normal thing for people to be doing.
W: Now Melissa there in Western Australia you don’t have the pokie clubs that the East Coast has. But many of the same organizations that are fielding sporting teams at a national level are also operating large pokie venues. How do these fit together for you?
S: So over the East, the pokies are a major source of revenue for the football clubs, we still have issues with online betting like TAB and Ladbrokes. So that as you would have seen through the AFL final recently along the bottom of the screen and during the breaks, there’s all of those promotions of gambling and we’ve had a number of parents actually contact us after the AFL Grand Final saying that it was terrible. Their kids are actually picking up on these, the odds betting and saying, “Oh how does this work mum? How can I get involved in this?” And so a lot of the parents said that after Macklemore for example saying at the Rugby League Final and after the Killers saying at the AFL final, they turned it off because they didn’t want their kids being exposed to the gambling ads. And of course, we had the loophole in the legislation which says that during any live sports telecasts, you can still promote alcohols. So during the breaks, we still have these alcohol ads playing at times when children are watching sport. And in Western Australia where we’re in a different time zone, so we are 2 or 3 hours earlier than the East Coast, these matters are being played at like 5:30 in the evening. So of course our children are still up watching these shows. So there are a lot of issues that we need to be aware of in relation to unhealthy sponsorship of sport. But our main concern is the exposure of kids to these unhealthy messages that are constantly bombarding them and we think and research shows that the more they’re exposed to these messages, the more likely they are to actually change their behavior towards the consumption of unhealthy products.
W: It’s an interesting topic to come up and as you say, you have the research to support it. It will be interesting to see whether the sporting bodies respond or if there are sponsorship outlets that respond. Melissa, how can people get in touch with you if they’re interested to talk to you?
S: We would love to talk to anyone who’s interested in this issue on either side of the fence because it’s always great for us to talk to industry as well. And so they can contact us at our website on www.phaiwa.org.au
W: Melissa, for those people who are slow to pick up their pencils, what was that website again?
S: It was www.phaiwa.org.au
W: Melissa, thanks for being with us today. It’s been a pleasure having you with us.
S: Thank you Wayne.
W: You’ve been listening to my conversation with Dr. Melissa Stoneham, the Western Australian Director of the Public Health Advocacy Institute. And the good news is if you’ve missed my conversation, we have a transcript on our website and you can also access the audio archive on SoundCloud, YouTube and iTunes. You’re listening to Health Professional Radio, my name is Wayne Bucklar.