Sports expert defends “chocolate for equipment” scheme

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: (Published 13 November 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:1125
  1. Amanda Elliot
  1. London

    A controversial, government endorsed campaign to tackle obesity by encouraging children to exchange chocolate bar wrappers for sports equipment is “showing positive results,” a former government adviser has claimed.

    Dr Sue Campbell, now chief executive of the Youth Sports Trust, said research suggested that the Cadbury Get Active campaign was not making children eat more chocolate.

    Giving evidence at the health committee inquiry last week, Dr Campbell said, “Early signs from an independent evaluation indicate that people don't eat more chocolate, they just change brands.”

    Mounting a vigorous defence of the scheme promoted by the Youth Sports Trust and endorsed by sports minister Richard Caborn, she told MPs, “You cannot underestimate the power of these brands. Some are trusted in the home in a way that our public health message is not.

    “A company like Cadbury is capable of delivering 12 million messages into the market place and engaging young people in positive dialogue.”

    Her comments came as the Food Standards Agency published a series of options for ministers to tackle obesity including an end to government endorsement of schemes linked to buying “less healthy foods.”

    Dr Campbell, until recently an adviser to the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport and to the Department for Education and Skills, said the Get Active campaign “spoke to young people,” who would otherwise shun the get active message.

    Under the scheme, school-children get “free” equipment when they collect tokens from Cadbury chocolate bars. It has been calculated that children need to collect tokens from 5440 chocolate bars for a net and set of volleyball posts and spend £40 ($67; €;58)—about 20 000 calories' worth—to earn a netball worth £5.

    Loughborough University is due to publish its independent evaluation of the scheme next year.

    Dr Campbell said she was “probably out of synch” with others giving evidence but that it was important to make physical education “attractive to every youngster not just the keen and athletic ones.”

    “We have to be careful that in our desire to protect children we do not remove them from the real world in which they live. We are in danger of assuming these young people are unable to make informed choices.”

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