Jamie Oliver has urged Theresa May not to water down a planned anti-obesity strategy for children, declaring he will “do anything” to help.
As part of his guest editorship of The Huffington Post UK, the TV chef pleaded with the new Prime Minister to act swiftly and warned that the issue would be a key test of her pledge for real change in the UK.
Oliver said May could save the country billions in NHS costs and improve the nation’s health and productivity if she tackled the obesity crisis, by keeping the sugar tax and implementing other measures.
And in a personal video appeal [watch it in full below], he said that he understood she was a fan of his cookbooks and hoped she would listen to his plea to act.
“So, God bless. Theresa come on, we need you, please. I know you’ve got my cookbooks, so I know you cook.
“And if you cook there’s a chance that goodness is in there. And the good will prevail!”
Looking directly into the camera, he smiled and said:
“Please. What do I have to do Theresa? What do you need from me? I am there. I will do anything.”
In an interview in 2012, the then Home Secretary revealed that she didn’t like Delia Smith recipes, but preferred Oliver’s more relaxed approach.
“I will not allow a Delia Smith cookbook in my house! It’s all SO PRECISE with Delia, and it makes cooking seem so inaccessible,” she told the Daily Telegraph.
“With somebody like Jamie [Oliver], you don’t actually have to worry if you’ve got one little bit of bicarb wrong.”
The new PM has more than 100 cookbooks, all of which are expected to be transferred to her new Downing Street kitchen.
Oliver said he was worried about new reports that the strategy had been watered down following food industry lobbying.
The Times reported ministers were backing off plans to ban junk food ads before 9pm and curbs on supermarket ‘checkout’ sweets.
And a leaked version of the long-awaited strategy no longer forces firms to promise to reduce sugar content in food and drinks, instead merely “challenged” them to make them healthier.
“I’m so frightened that it goes the wrong way,” Oliver said.
“But I think it also could be an incredible test of her [May’s] mettle. I’ve been through three PMs, now four. And I’ve been through two different governments and the Coalition.
“Nothing we’ve ever put forward that is important is rocket science. I can’t wait to see what she does with this profoundly important moment. We need a moment in child health.
“There’s not one thing, not even the sugary drinks tax. It needs to be a whole approach, where businesses, employers, parents, counties, mayors, towns, cities legislation, it all contributes to actually making the environment that our kids grow up in a healthier, happier, more productive, prosperous place.”
Recent figures show that a quarter of children are now going to primary school, and a third of those arriving at secondary school, as overweight or obese.
Oliver has for years campaigned for healthier school meals and child nutrition, starting with his Channel 4 programme ‘Jamie’s School Dinners’ in 2005.
The series’ message was picked up by the Blair and then Brown governments, which helped introduced more kitchens in schools to give pupils freshly-cooked meals rather than processed meat products like ‘Turkey Twizzlers’.
He then battled with Michael Gove under the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition to extend the healthy eating drive.
But with rising evidence of the dangers of sugar, he switched his focus to a ‘sugary drinks tax’ and better labelling and other moves to cut sugar in meals.
Referring to his hopes for the new May Government, he told HuffPost:
“New PM, new structures, new ministers. But from my point of view and for all the other organisations, NGOs, specialists, scientists and people that care about the next generation...the childhood obesity strategy is one of the most important things.”
“Since the referendum and the kind of wobble, politically, the sugary drinks industry have geared up and they want to get rid of the sugary drinks tax - that was polling at 75%.
“That money’s going from something that we should have less of and that money was going directly to primary schools, after school clubs, breakfast clubs and sports. It’s a time of change.
“And I guarantee you because I’ve been in No.10 and I’ve been in the meetings.
“The stuff on the shelf has been put there, researched, based around science, based around the cost of ill-health and lack of productivity of our country. The stuff on the shelf is brilliant. The things that were being said around the Cabinet table were brilliant. And life and the world just changed.
“So for me in a way this is the first profound test of Theresa May and Jeremy [Hunt, the Health Secretary]. Jeremy’s pretty dug in, but Theresa’s going to be an interesting one. How firm is she? Does she really get the importance of the whole approach that we need.”
Oliver praised the last Government in March, when George Osborne used his Budget to unveil a £520 million-a-year sugar tax on the soft drinks industry.
But he said it was no time to let up the pressure.
“This is the biggest thing of our lives. I’m not exaggerating. It just doesn’t sound glamorous. It just not dramatic, but it is killing more people and hurting more people,” he said.
“It’s absolutely, totally connected to this little island being fabulous and clever and hard-working and happy.”
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