Steven Gerrard And Jamie Oliver: Fight Child Obesity Through School Cookery Lessons

The New Faces Fronting The Fight Against Child Obesity

Jamie Oliver and Steven Gerrard have joined forces with leading figures in health and education to ask the Government to fight obesity through cookery teaching in schools.

In a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, they call on him to introduce a minimum 24 hours' practical cooking skills and food education for all pupils aged four to 14.

The group laments that the "pride" of hosting the Olympic Games has been "tainted by the shameful fact that Britain is officially the fattest nation in Europe".

But the Games provide a good opportunity to change things for the better, they suggest.

Teaching children through the National Curriculum how to prepare nutritious meals for themselves and their families would be an important step in tackling the rising obesity epidemic, the letter argues.

Without these skills, people are less likely to exercise meaningful control over their diet and food intake, and tend to rely on pre-prepared or takeaway foods, the campaigners add.

Celebrity chef Oliver - who has previously campaigned for healthier school dinners - and Liverpool and England footballer Gerrard teamed up with Dr Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, and Professor Terence Stephenson, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, to highlight the issue.

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, Professor David Haslam, chair of the National Obesity Forum, and Steve Iredale, president of the National Association of Head Teachers, also signed the letter, as well as academics and charity leaders.

Besides the call for compulsory cookery lessons, they note the need for more sporting role models to promote the benefits of a healthy lifestyle to children.

They write: "We the undersigned appreciate your concern about the health burden of obesity and the complex issue of how best to tackle this rising epidemic.

"As a group of charities and leading professionals in the field of medicine, food, sport, education and cookery, we firmly believe that the impact of obesity on our health is a very serious problem...

"We feel there's a great opportunity for the Government and Britain to take the lead in implementing measures that will have a significant impact on the future health of our country."

Prof Stephenson said: "The UK now has the highest rate of obesity in Europe, with one in three children overweight or obese by the age of nine.

"If these lifestyles don't change, the UK will have an adult population suffering with diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, giving an already cash-strapped NHS a £10 billion a year medical bill.

"We need to act now but we will not win this fight alone. Parents, schools, healthcare professionals and the Government must take a united approach in order to combat this obesity crisis."

Prof Haslam added: "The 2012 Olympics provide a unique opportunity to improve the nation's health and reduce the burden of obesity which leads to diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other conditions, and ultimately premature death.

"However, sitting in front of the television, cheering our elite athletes on, while eating crisps and chocolates, drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is entirely counter-productive.

"National enthusiasm must be accompanied by an improved diet and enhanced physical activity by the entire population, not just by our Olympians, for a significant difference to be made to the deteriorating health of the population."

Another signatory, Children's Food Campaign director Charlie Powell, questioned how children could put into practice what they knew about good food if they did not have any cooking skills.

"It's common sense that all children should learn how to cook at school, so it should be part of the National Curriculum," he said.

"If the Government is serious about improving children's health, keeping cooking in schools is one of the best ways to do it."

Author and obesity researcher Zoe Harcombe, who has also signed the letter, said: "To reverse the obesity epidemic we need our fellow humans to be able to source and prepare real food, not to microwave fake food.

"Food education and cooking skills were traditionally passed down from one generation to the next. We seek the Prime Minister's help to restore them in our future generation."

Gerrard is ambassador for the Get Up, Get Moving programme designed to increase awareness of physical activity and healthy eating.

A Department for Education spokesman said: "We know that a healthy attitude towards food, developed early, is critical to the health, well-being and good educational attainment of young people.

"That's why we've asked the School Food Trust to use their expertise and draw up early years nutritional guidance and why maintained schools must abide by the national minimum standards for nutrition.

"We are currently reviewing the National Curriculum and will make further announcement on the review in due course."


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