Joan Smith: If Jamie Oliver can't change our eating habits, who can?

Share
Related Topics

It's the story with everything: food, health, class and one of the country's biggest celebrities. Four years ago, Jamie Oliver launched a hugely popular campaign to banish junk food from school dinners; out went burgers, chips and fizzy drinks, and in came jacket potatoes, fresh fruit and yogurt. Oliver's television series Jamie's School Dinners was widely praised, and the Government came up with a £627m healthy-eating initiative for schools. Take-up of school dinners, which fell below half the nation's schoolchildren as long ago as 1984, was expected to rise as parents seized the opportunity to improve their kids' health.

Sadly, it hasn't turned out like that. Last week it emerged that there's been a small increase in the number of children eating school dinners in some areas, but nowhere near enough to meet the Government's target of half of all pupils nationwide. Sixty per cent of primary-school pupils are avoiding school dinners, and among older children it's two-thirds. In some parts of the country, take-up has actually fallen since the healthy-eating initiative began, leading the Lib Dems to claim that 400,000 fewer children are eating school dinners.

Even if that figure is an exaggeration, the overall reaction is hardly a ringing endorsement of the efforts of the Government or the TV chef. What people eat as adults tends to be decided by the meals they eat when they're growing up, and another set of statistics published last week confirms a significant North-South divide. Families in Scotland and the North of England buy more crisps, processed food and chips; they are fatter and die earlier than people in the South, who spend more money on fruit and vegetables. In Stockton-on-Tees in the North-east, one in six children starting school is already clinically obese, compared with only one in 25 in West Sussex.

This suggests either that substantial numbers of people ignore health education campaigns or – as some campaigners have claimed for years – that they have developed what amounts to an addiction to junk food. When Oliver began his school dinners campaign, some mothers in South Yorkshire responded by delivering takeaway food over the wall to children who didn't like the healthy alternative on offer in school. Oliver was so angry that he started cookery classes in Rotherham, showing sceptical locals how to prepare nutritious meals and celebrating several high-profile conversions to healthy eating.

But a report last week from the Association of Public Health Observatories shows how far there is to go: Rotherham is worse than the national average on 27 out of 31 indicators of public health, including obesity in children and adults, life expectancy and binge drinking. It's also poorer, reflecting the central role of class in determining what people eat and the state of their health.

Junk food is a killer. So is over-eating in any form, and not getting enough exercise. Most people know this, even if they're not aware of new research which appears to confirm the health benefits of a dramatically restricted diet; under-eating seems to protect against cancer and cardio-vascular disease, and slows the ageing process in monkeys. But advising people to embark on a calorie-restricted diet is a non-starter in a society where excess consumption has become – and continues to be, despite the Government's considerable efforts – the norm.

It may be cheering to discover from this mass of statistics that celebrities don't have as much influence as we'd all assumed. But if someone as successful and ubiquitous as Jamie Oliver can't persuade people to change their eating habits, I don't know what will.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mary Beard has helped her troll get a job - and a new start in life  

Mary Beard's troll-taming is a lesson for us all

Katy Guest
Ukip leader Farage with former Tory MP Carswell, who has defected to his party  

Could Douglas Carswell be a Trotskyite in disguise?

John Rentoul
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution