Stephen Jardine: Fast food sponsor for Edinburgh cycle hire is madness

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Early next month experts will gather in Edinburgh for a major conference on obesity. In Scotland 65% of adults are now overweight with 29% classed as obese. Those levels are some of the highest in the western world and the cost to the National Health Service is believed to be up to £4.6 billion per year. That’s a price we simply can’t afford to pay and the Edinburgh conference will examine how it can be avoided.

The lineup of speakers is impressive, ranging from the Programme Lead at Obesity Action Scotland to the Professor of Appetite Research from Aberdeen University and the Chief Executive of Scottish Slimmers. Missing from the list is the boss of the online fast food delivery service JustEat which is odd because it is now on the frontline of the mission to make Edinburgh a healthier place.

This week the takeaway deliver company was unveiled as the sponsor of the capital’s new bike hire scheme. Initially 200 Just Eat cycles will be available from 19 sites across the city with rental rates starting at £1.50 for an hour.

Prominently branded with the company logo they will soon be a familiar sight on the streets pursuing the key aim of the project which is to offer “a fun, healthy, affordable and environmentally-friendly” transport option.

This begs one simple question. Who on earth thought a company pedalling takeaway fast food is a good choice to be sponsor for an initiative aiming to make Edinburgh a healthier place to live?

The idea of getting us out of cars and onto bikes is great. We need to cut congestion and obesity and this is a good way to do both at the same time. But why is that being done under the banner of a company making it as easy as possible to eat high fat, high calorie food?

Take a look at what they have to offer in Edinburgh. From one partner takeaway, I spotted a set meal for two featuring a 12-inch pizza with two toppings, a pasta dish, a large side order of chips, a half litre tub of ice cream and two cans of soft drink, all for £17.

Good luck getting on any type of bicycle after scoffing that lot.

Now there are times when a takeaway delivered to your door is exactly what you want and no doubt JustEat do that well. They also have a few restaurants offering the odd side salad and vegetable. But why are we mixing up messages of fast food and fitness? More than that, why are we putting people who are trying to be healthy in a position where they are acting as mobile advertising for a takeaway delivery service?

You can’t blame the sponsor in question for grabbing the opportunity. The responsibility for this rests fairly and squarely with City of Edinburgh Council.

Elsewhere bike share schemes have been sponsored by everything from banks to brands of trainers. In some cities a different funding model is used to keep sponsorship off the bikes altogether. In fact Edinburgh seems to be the only place where the bikes are branded with messaging that goes completely against the whole point of the exercise.

Did anyone bother to approach a slimming brand for sponsorship ?. Or a health food firm ? Or a fitness clothing company ?.

Instead of searching out a partner with synergies to the project, the council blundered into a relationship that says fast food and healthy exercise go together. NO THEY DON’T.

Compared to the trams fiasco and the failed attempt to introduce congestion charging, this latest example of ineptitude by Edinburgh’s local authority is a fairly minor matter. But it’s also a badly missed opportunity to showcase health and exercise in the city and it begs the question, what next? How about Edinburgh Leisure in association with Dunkin’ Donuts? I wouldn’t put it past them.