Awkward marriage or golden opportunity? by David Stalker, CEO, ukactive

Yesterday, Cola-Cola Great Britain announced a national physical activity programme called Coca-Cola Zero ParkLives. At its heart, the programme is made up of a programme of free, fun activities in parks across the UK, delivered in partnership with local authorities. When our development director said we had the opportunity to work with Coke on a project where they were interested in promoting physical activity, my first instinct was to immediately question why, as the national not-for-profit health body of the physical activity sector, we’d want to work with a soft drinks manufacturer. Surely that would be a contradiction? But then I took a step back and considered what was at stake here. The latest figures on levels of physical inactivity in Great Britain are shocking. Worrying enough to bankrupt the NHS within a decade, if the trend continues. On the table was an opportunity to contribute to the structure, planning and measuring of a nationwide initiative, delivered locally, which will offer communities free, fun, informal physical activity sessions in the parks around the UK. The events would promote community cohesion and social engagement through the enjoyment of moving in public green spaces.

ukactive’s mission is to get more people, more active, more often. Achieving that requires partnerships with brands that have the profile to reach consumers at scale.  At the same time, as a membership body, we walk a fine line between wanting to retain our service value to our members and ensuring that our relationships with the commercial sector remain true to our DNA and that are not reduced to a starry-eyed dalliance to connect with deeper pockets and dance on bigger platforms.  Coca-Cola Great Britain is committed to playing its part in tackling the issue of obesity and their work to address inactivity goes alongside the work they are doing to give people greater choice of drinks by introducing new portion sizes, reformulating some of their drinks and increasing marketing of their zero calorie brands.

Since day dot, we’ve remained uncompromising in our view of the role of the importance of a healthy balanced lifestyle, in particular through nutrition – as a matter of fact, we’ve gone on record to say that obesity and diabetes need to be addressed through portion control, better quality food intake and, crucially, reducing sugar. But the fact is that inactivity kills, even if you are thin. This is about a healthy overall lifestyle and measuring the fitness of your heart, not just the size of your waist.

So we began our ParkLives journey with Coca-Cola Zero. Alongside Coca-Cola GB, Public Health England and local authorities, we’re helping to shape the plans, we’re leading the monitoring and evaluation of the project, and we’re ensuring the views of the stakeholder community are heard right at the heart of the project. Sometimes this means that we are the awkward partner at the heart of the project, expressing the challenges that need to be addressed – and we’re ok with that. What’s refreshing is the way our forensic knowledge of the physical activity landscape and the academic expertise we bring to the table is being activated.

For those who wonder where we draw the line, when does a consumer brand collaboration become an absolute no-go for an organisation motivated solely by the colossal health and economic benefit to be gained from getting people to move, I say this – we look to work with anyone who has a role to play in getting more people, more active, more often. There are countless considerations that come into play when we are defining who we work with. It varies from project to project – as it should. What matters is a genuine and credible long term commitment to getting more people more physically active and demonstrable recognition of the fact that investing in physical activity cannot be a guard against criticism for lack of commitment on tackling nutritional content.

Part of our commitment to improving  the health of the nation by promoting physical activity includes forming relationships with businesses and brands who share a similar ambition and commitment to prioritising the health of their consumers and encouraging them to lead more active lifestyles. A company like Coca-Cola GB has unique reach to be mobilised in the battle to turn the tide of inactivity.  See you in the park this summer.

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