Sports sponsorship from companies selling unhealthy food and drink is diluting Government efforts to promote good eating, University of Otago University researchers say.
A study into sports sponsorship has found a third of food and beverage companies sponsoring sport in New Zealand could be classified as unhealthy.
Associate Professor Louise Signal, from Otago's Health Promotion and Policy Research Unit in Wellington, said such sponsorship "is likely to promote consumption of junk food and dilutes government recommendations promoting healthy eating".
The authors of the study, which has been published in the journal BMC Public Health, reviewed the websites of 308 New Zealand sports organisations covering 58 sports to identify sponsors and conducted 18 interviews with key administrators from national and regional sporting organisations.
Sponsors were classified as healthy or unhealthy using the New Zealand Food and Beverage Classification System nutrient criteria for energy, fat, salt and fibre levels.
Signal said McDonalds and Coke are greatest product sponsors of New Zealand sports.
"And one of our most popular sports, rugby, has the unhealthiest sponsorship by far with 23 percent of brands and logos linked to unhealthy food. In contrast, netball has only 1 per cent linked to unhealthy food.
"Given the recent increase in obesity amongst New Zealand children this is of considerable concern.
"Currently, 11 per cent of children aged 5 to 14 are obese, up from 8 per cent in 2006 and 2007, and at least 20 per cent are overweight.
"The consumption of junk food is a significant contributor to this problem.
"Obesity is associated with a range of health problems including childhood diabetes, and heart disease, diabetes and cancer in later life.
"Our children deserve to be protected from the pressure to eat junk food while enjoying healthy outdoor activity, and parents need to be supported against pester advertising in their efforts to promote healthy eating to their children."
Signal said counting sponsor logos probably underestimates the extent of sponsorship of sports.
"Tactics included the use of 'Player of the Day' certificates for budding All White football players as young as four, and promotion of Powerade by the All Blacks. Powerade is not generally recommended for children."
Healthy food and beverage brands do also sponsor sport, with 21 per cent of logos on rugby websites linked to healthy foods, with cricket the next highest with 5 per cent.
The researchers said increasing such healthy sponsorship and highlighting the affect a good diet has on athletic performance is a way to support children eating a nutritious diet.
All the sports administrators interviewed in the study said the main benefit of sponsorship was financial, and although many were concerned with associating their sport with unhealthy foods or beverages, others considered sponsorship income to be more important.
The study recommended sports codes requiring members place a higher priority on health when selecting sponsors, and government regulation and funding to replace unhealthy food sponsorship with healthy sponsorship, just as was done for tobacco.