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UK Politics

Jamie Oliver wants childhood obesity at the top of the political agenda


TV chef Jamie Oliver is today calling for the appointment of a “political visionary” to solve the obesity crisis engulfing the UK.

He said he wanted at least one of the political parties to come up with “one pioneer, one visionary who’s going to put prevention [of childhood obesity] at the heart of its campaign” for the 2015 election.

“You can’t have one arm of the Government investing money in food education and school lunches and then have another part promoting junk food, en masse, to be licensed and given permission to trade within a stone’s throw of a school,” he said in an interview with the Times Education Supplement published today .

The TV chef, famous for his campaign to improve school dinners during the 2005 election campaign, which led to the adoption of new healthy eating standards in schools, added: “There is not one country on the planet which has smashed it [the obesity crisis] - not one country where obesity levels are coming down.”

He said it needed “50 or 60” decisions and initiatives to happen at once followed by a five-year strategy to improve eating habits.

“Governments will ask ‘what is the one thing we can do?’,” he added.  “But if you think [just] one thing, you’re always going to lose: nothing will be achieved.”

Latest figures show almost a third of 10- and 11-year-olds and over a fifth of four- to five-year-olds are either overweight or obese. Mr Oliver was making his comments in advance of Food Revolution Day on 16 May, when he will be broadcasting a cooking class for children across the globe via his own TV channel and those of the TES.

He will be attempting to break the Guinness World Record for the largest number of people cooking the same dish on the same day. All those who tune in will be asked to cook a “Rainbow Wrap”, a slaw with little bombs of feta cheese wrapped in flatbread.

Mr Oliver said: “Getting kids cooking from as early as possible helps them to develop an essential life skill which will have a huge impact on their future health and wellbeing.”

The Coalition Government’s most significant contribution to promoting healthier eating has been to announce - as Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg did at the Liberal Democrat party conference - that all children would receive a free school meal until the age of eight from September 2015.

The decision came after a review by Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent, co-founders of the Leon restaurant chain, recommended a partial introduction of free school dinners for everyone.

Their review, ordered by Education Secretary Michael Gove, pointed to the low take-up of school dinners (43 per cent).

Jamie Oliver has clashed with Mr Gove over his decision to exempt free schools and academies from complying with healthy eating standards in the school dinners they serve.

In his interview, he said: “We’ve got another election coming up. Let’s see how many of them [the political parties] start really talking about children’s health and public health.”