Cadbury slammed for school sports schemes

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Cadbury Schweppes is to introduce a scheme offering schools the
chance to acquire sports equipment in exchange for chocolate bar
wrappers. But the government-endorsed scheme has been widely
criticised, not least by the UK Food Commission, which points out
that children will have to consume vast quantities of chocolate to
earn enough points.

On the surface, it seems quite innocuous - a scheme allowing children to exchange their chocolate bar wrappers for points which can be redeemed against the cost of buying sports equipment for their school.

But the new marketing programme, to be introduced by Cadbury Schweppes​ in May, has been severely criticised by the UK's Food Commission which is accusing the company of promoting the consumption of sugar and fat.

The Cadbury programme - endorsed by the UK government - is called Get Active! and is being run in partnership with the Youth Sports Trust, a registered charity which aims to increase children's participation in sport.

But the Food Commission points out that in order for schools to qualify for the top item on the list of sports equipment - a set of volleyball net posts - a school will need to encourage pupils to spend over £2,000 (€2,865) on chocolate, consuming nearly one-and-a-quarter million calories.

The Food Commission said it was not alone in criticising the scheme - although it has been the most vociferous opponent - adding that the National Union of Teachers and many health experts had also expressed concerns.

It was particularly scathing about the support given to the scheme by UK sports minister Richard Caborn, who was quoted by Cadbury 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."

In its report, which is reproduced on the organisation's website​, the Food Commission pointed out that a 10-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), according to the Commission.

Both Cadbury Schweppes and the government have been stoically tight-lipped about the scheme, but the UK Food and Drink Federation, which promotes the food industry in Britain, has issued a statement.

"Food and drink manufacturers take a very responsible view of their relationships with consumers, including children. Snacks and drinks can clearly form a part of a balanced diet. The drop in children's levels of activity has been identified as one of the key factors in increasing obesity and schemes that encourage healthy active lifestyles can make a real contribution to children's health,"​ said Martin Paterson, deputy director general of the Food and Drink Federation.

For the record, the president of the FDF is currently John Sunderland, chief executive of Cadbury Schweppes.

While marketing partnerships of this kind are still relatively unusual in the UK (although they are growing in number all the time), they are much more common in the US, where companies such as Coca-Cola have frequently been criticised for promoting the consumption of sugary soft drinks in schools by offering free dispensing machines and other incentives.

At a time when the UK, along with the US, is suffering from increasingly high levels of obesity, the Food Commission and other activists are clearly concerned that Cadbury is getting far more out of the Get Active! scheme than the schools or their pupils. But with educational establishments in the UK perennially under-funded, the government is unlikely to turn down any private company willing to invest in schools, no matter what the quid pro quo.

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