Although many steps have been taken by various organisations to combat the issue, childhood obesity is a serious concern in the UK and worldwide. Statistics still show that one in five children in the UK are overweight by the time they reach five years old. Worryingly, four in five children aged five to 15 fail to consume the recommended five portions of fruits and vegetable per day.
Public Health England has identified potential health related consequences of child and adolescent obesity, including type two diabetes, asthma, cardiovascular (CVD) risks obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), musculoskeletal problems and various psychosocial and mental health disorders. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has been addressing the issue of food in schools for over ten years, and has built a relationship with the education system since his documentary series entitled ‘Jamie’s School Dinners’ was aired in 2005. The show revealed how school meals lacked nutritious ingredients with little healthy alternatives and raised an enormous amount of public awareness. This led to 271,677 online signatures for the Feed Me Better petition, which was presented to 10 Downing Street in March 2005 and subsequently the British government pledged £280m of funding for school dinners.
Planning the revolution Food Revolution Day is a global campaign to put compulsory practical food education on the school curriculum. Launched in 2012, the campaign asks members of the public to sign a petition which supports the change. Jamie elaborates: “I profoundly believe that it is every child’s human right to have access to food education from a young age. It’s only with this knowledge and understanding of food, where it comes from, how it affects their bodies, and how to grow, cook and enjoy it, that we will be able to fix the terrible state of global health as it stands today.”
Cookery became part of the national curriculum last year and lessons are now compulsory for children up to Year 9, but Jamie says this alone does not go far enough. He told the Telegraph: “While the cookery lessons are now compulsory, they are not measured or evaluated. Not all teachers know what is required. We are seeing everything from schools rewriting their entire curriculum around food, to schools that say ‘We do a bit of cooking … we make fairy cakes in year one’.
“I’d like to see inspectors really look at how food is being taught. At this critical next stage of school food, I do think it would be useful if Ofsted could actually monitor and evaluate the food culture of schools in a meaningful way.”
Stars lend weight to the campaign A pop song and video, featuring Sir Paul McCartney, singer songwriter Ed Sheeran, rapper Professor Green and producer Jazzie B, was created to lend weight to the Food Revolution Day campaign, and featured an exclusive Jamie Oliver ‘rap’ to introduce the tune.
Among the many schools taking part in Food Revolution Day, pupils at Brenzett Primary in Romney Marsh spent the afternoon baking tasty dishes. Head teacher Matthew Easton said: “The chance to learn about, prepare and share food with professional chefs has created quite a buzz at Brenzett and we couldn’t wait to see, smell and taste the delights that the children prepared.
“Every child worked with our caterers Caterlink to produce fruit tartlets, cakes and bread, which then created a wonderful afternoon tea for parents.
“Some of the children shared their rolls during the afternoon tea and others took them home to share. The whole day was fun filled and all the children would like to do more activities with food.”
Pupils at Ormiston Bushfield Academy in Peterborough took part for the second consecutive year. Grainne Smith, leader of food technology, said: “Jamie’s Food Revolution Day is a great way of encouraging youngsters to cook. By teaching our pupils about food we are equipping them with the skills they need to lead healthier lives, and this is an essential part of their education at such a young age and for life.”
She continued: “The pupils are learning about healthy eating in class at the moment, with an introduction to basic cookery skills, so the Food Revolution Day fits in really well with this. We are delighted to have had so many children involved again this year, and hope that this will spark even more interest in learning to cook healthy and delicious food in the future.”
Kitchen Garden Project Jamie Oliver’s Kitchen Garden project, part of Jamie Oliver Food Foundation UK, arms primary schools with everything needed to teach children to grow fruit and vegetables from seed and cook their own meals from scratch. A pilot scheme was launched in 2009 at Orford Primary School, Suffolk, and now almost 300 schools across the UK have joined the project, which extends beyond the curriculum by encouraging a greater understanding of food and nutrition that will develop a lifetime of healthy eating habits and can be passed down to future generations. It offers a ‘Learn to Cook and Grow’ CPD certified teacher training in collaboration with the RHS campaign for School Gardening.
A case study, available on the Kitchen Garden Project website, looks at St Paul’s Whitechapel Primary School in Tower Hamlets who joined the project in 2013. As a borough, Tower Hamlets faces some of the highest childhood obesity rates in England. It fully embraced the programme by creating space in the timetable for regular cooking across all year groups and also designed and installed a bespoke kitchen pod on the school grounds.
Head of school Darren Rubin said: “It almost feels like a cliché to recount how much our pupils have benefited from cooking. It is now normal to see children snacking on freshly prepared salads at the school gates instead of crisps or to hear children talking about how to season a dish properly. Parents have been amazed to see their children eating vegetables they had previously refused. Cooking is now a core part of our curriculum at St. Paul’s, and is something that means a lot to our entire community.”
Jamie and his wife Jools recently celebrated their 15th wedding anniversary, and have four children (Poppy Honey, Daisy Boo, Petal Blossom and Buddy Bear). Despite an estimated personal fortune of £180m, the star admitted recently that as much of 40 per cent of his earnings have been ‘wasted’ on unsuccessful business ventures. However, much of his career has been spent campaigning for healthier school dinners and food education. He believes that suppliers and global businesses have a significant part to play.
He said: “I obviously have a very biased view but I think you can sell any product and still contribute ethically. The new people coming through are wanting and expecting better things. I think we can supercharge progress. I think corporations and businesses are much more agile and have much more capability than government. Really, the responsibility lays with business.”