Jamie Oliver takes aim at 'fattest nation in the world'

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The Independent US

Jamie Oliver, the outspoken celebrity chef and scourge of every school cook in Britain, has taken his healthy-eating message to the United States. And true to form, he is not mincing his words when it comes to American children and their particular battle with obesity.

"A fat person in England isn't the same as a fat person in America," Oliver gamely asserted yesterday, taking time off from a packed schedule in New York promoting his two latest ventures - a book and a television series about cooking in Italy.

Apparently unconcerned with the sensibilities of his American hosts, Oliver ploughed forth suggesting that the US should follow the example of Britain, which, on his urging, has recently banned Turkey Twizzlers and other fatty delights from school cafeterias, replacing them with healthier options.

"England is the most unhealthy country in Europe and America is the most unhealthy country in the world," Oliver told a Reuters reporter. He nonetheless acknowledged that he did not expect to repeat his British campaign for healthier school food in America, noting that as an "English boy in America, they might not appreciate my honesty".

Not that Oliver is necessary wrong in his observations. The number of overweight Americans has tripled since 1980, according to new figures from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and the obesity rate among children and young people is expected to hit 20 per cent by the end of this decade.

If Oliver is afraid that Americans might take against him for his remarks, he doesn't show it. In recent days, he has been all over the television dial, putting the hosts of NBC's breakfast Today show through their culinary paces and making a guest appearance with Martha Stewart on her daily programme.

"Having a brilliant time in New York at the moment," he writes to fans in the latest instalment of a personal blog on his website. He also takes care to promote a couple of his favourite restaurants in Manhattan, including the British-themed Spotted Pig, the recent winner of a Michelin star.

But it is his own products that he is in town to sell. His book, Jamie's Italy, hit American bookshops earlier this month while the companion television show, Jamie Oliver's Great Italian Escape, will be broadcast to American audiences later this month.

New York, as it happens, has taken the lead among American cities to introduce legislation aimed at trimming the waistlines of its citizenry. A draft city ordinance championed by the city's Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, would ban artificial trans-fats from almost all restaurants. Partly in response, one national fast-food chain, KFC, recently announced plans to drop all trans-fats.

Oliver, 31, hailed the move by Mr Bloomberg, arguing that the setting of government guidelines remains the best way to tackle the problem and persuade the fast-food companies to change their manufacturing habits.

His campaign in Britain became a reality for school canteens - and for millions of less-than-delighted children - only when the Government backed it with legislation.

"The junk food companies have got more resources than the government and more money to spend on poxy lawyers so I completely admire and condone the Mayor for doing it," he commented, adding, however, that most American politicians are "subservient" to "junk food companies". His presence in New York coincides with the opening tomorrow of Gordon Ramsay's first venture in America, The London restaurant, on West 54th Street. The blunt-speaking Ramsay is already a fixture in America thanks to his reality show, Hell's Kitchen, on Fox television.