Obesity expert criticises McDonald’s partnership with Football Association of Ireland

Government needs to get ‘deadly serious’ about sponsorship, says specialist

Fries are prepared for customers at McDonald’s. Donal O’Shea, a consultant endocrinologist, has said the Government should consider pulling its financial support from the FAI because of its new partnership with the fast-food chain.

Fries are prepared for customers at McDonald’s. Donal O’Shea, a consultant endocrinologist, has said the Government should consider pulling its financial support from the FAI because of its new partnership with the fast-food chain.

Tue, Mar 19, 2013, 06:00

The FAI is expected to announce a grassroots partnership this afternoon with Republic of Ireland captain and leading goalscorer Robbie Keane as McDonald’s “brand ambassador”.

McDonald’s cash will enable the FAI to deliver coaching programmes aimed at developing skills in young players and supporting club development.

Prof Donal O’Shea, a consultant endocrinologist and doctor based in St Vincent’s University Hospital and St Columcille’s Hospital, said the Government had to get “deadly serious” about such sponsorship.

An outspoken critic of the marketing of fast food to children, he said: “I think my view is it should not be happening, the argument is over about this now. Sponsorship is advertising. Advertising influences young kids in particular.”

Dr O’Shea said a quarter of all children between three and 12 were obese and there was evidence obesity could contribute to rises in childhood cancers and diabetes.

“To have a sporting organisation that is funded by the Government that is entering into a partnership with the ultra-processed food and drinks industry, any government organisation needs to do that responsibly and build in safety measures for children.

“The Government should withdraw any funding it gives the FAI if the FAI has not consulted with the Government about this.” Dr O’Shea added that obesity killed between 4,000 and 6,000 people a year in Ireland, yet people were more exercised over the horse meat scandal.

“Some 80 per cent of that [obesity deaths] are preventable. What bit of this message is failing to sink in and what bit of that message is not allowing the Government to be more aggressive in its stance?”

The FAI receives €3 million for underage development from the Irish Sports Council.

A spokesman for that body said it was not up to the council to decide who should sponsor individual sporting organisations but each in turn had to be aware of the potential response from parents. He added that some parents were unhappy when McDonald’s sponsored a GAA catch-and-kick competition 10 years ago.

In a statement, McDonald’s said the partnership did not involve branded kit and was focused on providing training to coaches at club level.

McDonald’s was “committed to supporting healthy, active lifestyles” and its food can be consumed as part of a balanced diet. In addition it had put calorie information on menu boards in its restaurants from January, the company said.