Spectator sports and food—often high-calorie or low-nutrition—have long gone hand-in-hand, yet FDA regulations geared toward calorie transparency at restaurant chains ignore this relationship. Popular fast-food restaurants soon will be required to post calorie counts, but concession stands at major sports facilities and many sports bars will not.
"The proposed menu labeling regulations, as part of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, overlook sport and sport spectatorship. Stadiums and arenas aren't included," said Antonio Williams, sport and fitness marketing expert at the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington. "Neither are sports bars or restaurants that are not part of a chain. It's a big mistake. It's no secret that a tremendous amount of food is consumed during sporting events and that fans often are exposed to numerous food-related ads and sponsorship. It's a symbiotic relationship."
During the Super Bowl, for example, typically one third of advertisements involve food. Williams said game day also represents the second heaviest day of the year for food consumption, according to the USDA.
The regulations may overlook the relationship between food and sport, but corporate America hasn't, Williams said, pointing to major sports venues and football bowl games named for food-related corporations.
"Some research shows that companies who sell unhealthy products have marketed them effectively by tying them to images or activities that are widely viewed as pure or healthy, like sport," he said.
Williams and co-author Crystal Williams note in an upcoming article in the Loyola Consumer Law Review that the National Restaurant Association has submitted letters to the FDA arguing that applying the new regulation to concession stands in sports arenas and stadiums would fall within the intent of Congress when it adopted the Affordable Care Act.
Their article, "Hitting calories out of the ballpark: An examination of the FDA's new menu labeling laws and their impact on sport spectatorship," will appear in the March issue of the journal.