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Tooth decay in children is a significant problem in the UK; a quarter of 5 year olds are affected (Public Health England, 2018 figures). Experts have warned that Coca Cola’s sponsorship of the 2018 FIFA World Cup is likely to result in increased dental problems. Due to innovative advertising techniques children are currently faced with a deluge of advertising and action is needed to address this worsening health crisis.
Companies are resorting to increasingly sophisticated methods of advertising, creating a trap unwary consumers are unable to evade. Coca Cola’s recent advertising campaign for the 2018 FIFA World Cup includes endorsements from celebrities such as Jason Derulo and South Korean boyband BTS which has amassed a huge world-wide following. Other marketing means include a Trophy Tour 360 Experience, social media feeds saturated with promotional content, promotional codes to unlock branded content in the 2018 FIFA video game and more traditional advertising through billboards, television advertisements and World Cup themed packaging. The cumulative effect of this campaign is that it is difficult to avoid an advertisement that encourages the purchase of a Coca Cola drink.
This is especially problematic because the target audience of such advertisements is largely comprised of children and young adults who are already likely to be at risk of problems connected to tooth decay. Public Health England (PHE) has warned that children have already consumed more than a year’s worth of sugar in the 6 months from January to June. Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE has commented on the link between excessive sugar intake and the “obesity crisis”. A further worsening problem is dental decay. The Department for Health advises that children between 4 and 10 should limit their sugar intake to 6 cubes a day but children consume 13 cubes on average. A can of Coca Cola contains 8-10 cubes of sugar; Coca Cola’s end goal of increasing consumption will further worsen the problem of overconsumption of sugar.
Furthermore, this problem is likely to be exacerbated by Coca Cola’s sponsorship of the FIFA World Cup. With the company investing £2.5 million into its UK campaign, the end result has been “wall-to-wall promotions for products fuelling tooth decay and obesity” (Russ Ladwa, Health and Science Chair of BDA). Emma Harper, senior brand manager at Coca Cola noted “more than 3 billion people globally will tune in to watch the games” and Coca Cola’s European Partners market research estimates 50 per cent of the UK population will watch the games.
There is likely to be a direct link between the increased awareness of Coca Cola due to advertising and an increase in consumption of the drink; 89% of Coca Cola’s target audience watched the 2016 UEFA Euros at home and 33% consumed soft drinks during matches. Given that this year’s campaign is more sophisticated and integrated than previous years we can assume that consumption of Coca Cola will increase.
This is likely to exacerbate the problem of tooth decay, which is already the main reason for child hospital admissions amongst children aged between 5 and 9 in the UK (2012-2013 figures). Over 63,000 children below the age of 19 were admitted to hospital for tooth extractions between 2014 and 2015. This also has significant costs implications – as the average cost of a tooth extraction for a child under the age of 5 is £836.
Russ Ladwa urges the government to take action, noting the “huge health challenges” and the extent to which “the industry’s tentacles can now reach”. Professor Russell Viner, officer for health promotion at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said ministers should ban television advertisements for food and drink items with a high sugar content before 9pm.
Whilst this could be considered as a starting point (leaving aside for the moment questions of feasibility), given that most companies are now focusing on other tools such as social media it is essential that the government considers these tools in developing a coherent and effective solution to the health crisis with a sharp focus on sugary drinks. Coca Cola’s recent advertising campaign is based on the idea of “being ready”; it is clear that the current system for dealing with the impact of such advertising is anything but.