The 2012 Promotion of Unhealthy Lifestyles Olympics

With sponsors like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola for what is supposed to be a tribute to maximizing your physical potential, you would be right to detect no small amount of incongruity in the message of the Olympic games. To be fair, Coca-Cola has been a sponsor of the Olympics since 1928, McDonald’s since 1976, so this is hardly a new development. You might, however, think that we have come farther as a society since then. Not really.

I Want to Ride My Bicycle

To add insult to injury, LOCOG and the sponsors are stepping up the effort of highlighting what a parody of itself the 2012 Olympics are. First, as The Guardian‘s Laurie Tuffrey reports, what was originally touted as an opportunity to

  • “use the power of the Games to encourage people across the UK to walk and cycle more often”,
  • “help deliver this promise and to inspire people of all ages to become more active through walking and cycling”,
  • “[ease] pressure on the public transport and road network during the Games”,
  • “ensure trips can easily be combined with other modes (of transport, ed.)”,
  • “make it as easy and attractive as possible for you to get to an event on foot or by cycle”1

is anything but that. In fact, as Tuffrey reports, miles of cyclist roads will be shut off along with other crucial transportation infrastructure.

The Olympics’ “Active Travel” page rings hollow for cyclists:

We have invested over £10m in making improvements to over 75km of key walking and cycling routes leading to London 2012 venues both in and outside London.

These improvements have been designed with legacy in mind and are integrated with the wider transport network, to ensure trips can easily be combined with other modes.

As Tuffrey explains, people will be unable to bring their (non-collapsible) bicycle on board certain trains during specific peak hours in order to thwart congestion. As such, the prospect of using your bicycle and combining modes of transportations looks like a promise as hollow as that of promoting a healthy lifestyle through Coca-Cola and McDonald’s. Be sure to read Tuffrey’s full article in The Guardian, because he’s done an excellent job of looking into the matter.

But it doesn’t end there.

The second act of the parody of the Olympics’ efforts to promote a healthy lifestyle begins with what was initially an expected article in the Beeb about the declining health and lifestyles of Brits, and how the Olympics send a wrong message by promoting products that literally have no nutritional value. Business as usual, completely expectable.

Then the sponsoring companies mentioned in the article responded.

Corporate Gaga

Although it’s not unheard of, it still boggles the mind why companies like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and now Cadbury and Heineken, figure this makes for good PR.

Let’s run through them, starting with the IOC (International Olympics Committee) who joined the sponsors and LOCOG in replying to the article:

The IOC only enters into partnerships with organisations that it believes work in accordance with the values of the Olympic Movement.

Can’t disagree with that.

For London 2012, the company is focused on using its partnership with the Olympic Games to amplify the importance of active, healthy living. In London, Coca-Cola will deliver a variety and choice, and provide easy-to-understand information about their products so consumers can decide what is most appropriate for them. In fact, they will offer the widest range of drinks they have ever offered at an Olympic Games, including sparkling and still, low- and no-calorie choices, juices, smoothies and water.

Here’s some easy-to-understand information about Coca-Cola’s products: never drink their sodas. They provide zero nutritional value, and in return destroy your teeth, contain an embarrassing amount of calories and sugar, and push you one step closer to the precipice of type-2 Diabetes.

McDonald’s provides a varied menu with a wide choice of high-quality options in its restaurants at the Olympic Games. The company is committed to promoting an active lifestyle, and has implemented well publicised nutrition and active lifestyle programmes around the world.

They trust their customers to make the wrong health choices and right commercial choices. Can I get that supersized?

Let’s see what Coca-Cola have to say:

People consume many different foods and beverages, so no one single food or beverage alone is responsible for people being overweight or obese. We believe all of our drinks can be enjoyed as part of an active, healthy lifestyle that includes a sensible, balanced diet and regular physical activity.

How do these people sleep at night?

We have continually innovated our beverage choices - from one product in one size offered at the 1948 Olympic Games to today more than 500 brands with over 800 low- and no-calorie beverages. At London 2012 we will provide the widest range of drinks and sizes ever offered at an Olympic or Paralympic Games, to suit every lifestyle and hydration need.

I’m pretty sure that, barring ingredients, the original 6½-oz. coke cans were literally healthier than the current line-up due to the comparably small size. A few years after the 1948 Olympics, Coca-Cola went on to quadruple the size of the cola containers.

Congratulations, you are literally a less healthy product company than you were over half a century ago. Your 6½-oz. cans wouldn’t even have a problem with Mayor Bloomberg.

Alright, enough of that. What do McDonald’s have to say:

We recognise that public health issues like obesity are complex matters that cannot be solved by governments or companies alone. Ultimately it’s up to individuals to make the right food, drink, and activity choices for themselves and our broad range of menu options in a variety of sizes, together with the nutrition information, means that customers can make more informed choices.

“Ultimately, the sole responsibility and culpability lies with the individual.” Straight out of mcdonalds.txt, as to be expected. I shouldn’t even bother to quote them except to show the boilerplate argument.

After all these case studies in contorted rhetorics, we finally arrive at the last featured respondent: Heineken. Their release, in its entirety:

Heineken is proud to be a supplier and partner to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

As an industry leader and a global business, Heineken is unequivocally committed to the responsible marketing of its beers and ciders. We have a long track record of harnessing the power of global sporting events such as the Uefa Champions League and the Rugby World Cup to increase consumer awareness of both the Heineken brand and the responsible consumption of alcohol.

Heineken actively encourages the enjoyment of beer in moderation as part of a healthy balanced lifestyle at all times.”

How can you not love a company that flat-out states that this is a promotional opportunity, and that they aren’t here to sell people snakeoil and bullshit narratives. I’m glad to see the Olympics is not entirely bereft of candour and sincerity.