Food and Behaviour Research

Donate Log In

18 January 2015 - The Guardian - Welcome to the Coca-Cola London Eye … but health charities are already seeing red

Nadia Khomami

Rebranding the Eye in the livery of the fizzy drink maker will lead to children suffering greater ill health, say campaigners

After closing for its annual maintenance period in early January, the London Eye, one of the most recognisable landmarks in the world, reopened this weekend as the Coca-Cola London Eye. The new name is a result of a sponsorship deal that was signed last September. It means that each pod of the Eye now has Coca-Cola branding inside, that staff wear red tops with Coca-Cola stamped on the back, security staff wear Coca-Cola beanie hats, all the cafes in the ticket office are branded with large Coca-Cola posters, and the wheel no longer shines blue at night, but a vivid, Coca-Cola red.

The move has concerned medical professionals and children’s charities, who believe that such blatant branding will have implications on public health. As co-ordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign, Clark and his team of volunteers handed out 500 toothbrushes on Saturday – the same as the number of children aged five to nine hospitalised every week due to tooth decay. “It’s totally inappropriate for a major family attraction to be sponsored by a sugary drinks company,” Clark said. “It sends completely the wrong message, not just to children and their parents here in London, but – given the Eye’s worldwide recognition and visitor profile – right across the globe.

“Soft drinks are the largest single source of sugar in children and teenagers’ diets, and their regular consumption is associated with weight gain and obesity, diabetes, heart disease and poor dental health. Coca-Cola has been talking about Coke Zero, Diet Coke, and Coke Life, but this branding is completely red for full-sugar Coca-Cola.”

Clark’s charity has been calling for a ban on junk food advertising before 9pm and for Britain to follow France, Mexico and Hungary in introducing a 20p per litre tax on sugary drinks. Supporters say this tax, backed by more than 60 organisations including the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, the British Dietetic Association and the Faculty of Public Health(FPH), would reduce the number of British adults who are obese by 180,000 (1.3%) and who are overweight by 285,000 (0.9%), saving the NHS £39m.

“Damage to children’s health should be a major concern,” said Dr John Middleton, vice president for health policy at the FPH. “Sugar is used to pacify, entertain and reward children, but those uses are wiped out by the children hospitalised for dental decay each week. There are nine teaspoons of sugar per can of Coke and this is rising wit h ever-increasing, American-style drink sizes. Coca-Cola is the flagship for sugar marketing and therefore the flagship for rotten teeth and diabetes.

“They’re buying respectability and visibility in all aspects of public life by offering peanuts to cash-strapped local authorities to sponsor their parks – now taking over a high-visibility international tourist attraction and a major icon of the London landscape.”

Professor Simon Capewell from the University of Liverpool, who sits as vice president elect at the FPH, added that the deal was “scandalous”. “People no longer tolerate sponsorship by tobacco companies. Why on earth should we tolerate sponsorship by a sugary drinks company?” he said.