"Recipes promoted by celebrity chefs in Britain could be a hidden contributing factor to the country's obesity epidemic" according to a new report by the Department of Health Professions at Coventry University. It claims that our favourite TV chefs and food personalities could be responsible for our nations ever expanding waistlines with findings claiming that 87% of 904 recipes by well-known chefs fell "substantially short" of the UK government's healthy eating recommendations.
Some media reports made an example of individual cases - an ice cream brioche coming in at 2,144 calories and a meatball sandwich "containing more fat per serving than a Big Mac". What's important to note is that this research is based on analysis of the nutritional values of randomly selected recipes created by celebrity chefs. There is also no proof that more indulgent recipes directly lead to higher rates of obesity.
I was commenting on Sky News about the study this week, and what is clear to me is that there is a place for indulgence. Whilst there are lots of healthy recipe books out there, many celebrity books are geared towards treat foods and 'event' meals. However, we would be undermining the intelligence of the average consumer to think that they would refer to, and follow these recipes, for all of their meals. People are savvy enough to make informed choices about what they want to eat.
However, I do think it is vital that people are made fully aware of the importance and impact of eating a balanced diet from a young age. A treat or two is perfectly fine if you are balancing it out with wholesome, healthy food and regular exercise.
Lots of chefs are working tirelessly to improve the state of people's eating habits in the UK, and rather than pointing the finger, we should be putting our efforts into tackling the issue of obesity and bad eating habits in the areas that really count.
Take school meals for example. We know that standards are slowly improving, and some schools do it fantastically well, but there is still plenty of room to make the food our children are eating even more nutritious and tasty. Getting that balance can be tough as children won't eat anything that doesn't look and taste good (and it can be hard to make veg appealing), which is why I'm currently involved in helping to find practical solutions to improve school means, and subsequent take-up, in the UK.
What many people don't know is that food that tastes good doesn't have to contain countless numbers of calories. It doesn't have to be expensive either. As a well-known parenting author and expert on feeding children, I feel a huge sense of responsibility for creating healthy, balanced dishes that children and the whole family will love. However, some of my books do also contain 'treat' foods. Children should be introduced to all types of foods as this will allow them to learn all about getting the balance right between choosing healthy, wholesome options and enjoying occasional treats. That's why cooking in schools from an early age is essential, as children need to understand what constitutes a good diet.
When it comes to children's food, another area of focus should be the supermarket floor. We should be looking at where manufacturers of children's food are falling short of healthy eating benchmarks. At the very least, there should be very clear labeling on levels of sugar, fat and salt so that parents can clearly see what they are giving their children. To blame celebrity chefs for Britain's rising obesity levels is an oversimplification of the problem when there is so much more to this.