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Dentists advising their patients and particularly children to avoid (or at least keep to a minimum) sugary drinks and snacks is not something new. When footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, possibly the most famous footballer in the world, makes a point, then people stop and take stock.

Football is a multi million pound global industry, with millions of children across the world idolising their football teams and star players. Brands long ago realised this and sponsorship has become a multi billion pound industry. Viewers of major tournaments such as Euro2020 can’t choose to filter out brands that they do no want to see. These brands are simply forced upon our children.

This week Ronaldo made a point with Coca Cola. The footballer moved away bottle of Coke at a news conference in Budapest, Hungary, on Monday. Instead he chose a bottle of water, declaring ‘AGUA’ – and encouraging its consumption over the sugary drink. This resulted in the share price of Coca Cola, one of the official sponsors of Euro 2020, to plummet by 1.6% i.e. a drop of $4billion!!

Are sugary drinks and snacks becoming the new tobacco? After all it wasn’t really that long ago that cigarette brands sponsored Formula 1 teams and World Snooker. Prime time TV including the BBC promoted these brands via sponsorship. As the health issues of smoking were realised and the links to lung disease became irrefutable, firstly tobacco sponsorship was banned and then the products were banned in public and work places too.

According to the British Heart Foundation, circa 31,000 deaths in the UK each year  are attributed to excess weight and obesity.

According to NHS data (and so excluding all private dental practice procedures) there are circa 50,000 teeth extracted from children in the UK. Fillings will therefore run into the hundreds of thousands. Many dentists believe these numbers will increase post-pandemic due to widespread poor oral hygiene and lockdown diets high in sugar and restricted access to routine NHS dental care.

The British Dental Association (BDA) also praised the move – but said a sustained worldwide approach is needed for real change.

Eddie Crouch is chair of the BDA. He said: ‘Tooth decay affects close to 3.5 billion people worldwide. Yes, water is the right choice, but the influence of the junk food industry runs deep.

We have a player sponsored by KFC, playing for a team funded by M&Ms and Coca Cola itself.

Sporting heroes provide wall-to-wall marketing for brands that actively undermine the oral health and overall health of consumers. As dentists, we know that no amount of exercise will protect against tooth decay.

If ministers are serious about taking junk food advertising off the menu for children, they cannot leave sport untouched.’

The Government this week has confirmed it is to impose a UK-wide pre-9pm ban on TV adverts for food high in sugar, salt and fat. It is a step in the right direction, but the quicker we can remove the saliency of sugary drink and food brands from all forms of media including TV, internet advertising, social media, sponsorship, computer games etc etc… the better.

Maybe if other positive influencers & role models could take note of the impact of Ronaldo’s rejection of Coke and other such brands, this movement could quickly gains pace. Let’s hope the message is finally ‘coming home’ and we will see a significant shift in behaviour. In the UK our children deserve better for their teeth.

Purvi Precious
Dentist – FHDC
BChD, Leeds (1998), GDC 75353

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