Skip to content

Changing lives through food…but how?

24 April 2012

Everyone’s shaking a stick at obesity these days, saying something needs to change. And yet no one seems able to agree on whose responsibility it is let alone who should take the lead.

We need to get a move on. More than a third of children are currently either overweight or obese and by 2030 obesity rates for women and men in the UK are expected to rise to 43% and 48 % respectively, a trend that will significantly increase the prevalence of strokes, heart disease and cancer, and lead to significantly higher costs for the NHS. This will affect all of us in one way or another.

The coalition government is the prime suspect, in the dock for what is seen as its failed laissez-faire strategy in the face of the obesity epidemic.

Just last week the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges called for a ban on “irresponsible marketing” by major food and drinks firms seen as fuelling the crisis, and for the ditching of the government’s “inherently flawed” approach of trusting  the industry to voluntarily cut calories, reduce portion sizes and advise the public on healthy eating. Moreover, the Academy believes, fast food outlets near schools shouldn’t be allowed and Scandinavian-style ‘fat taxes’, designed to penalize buyers of food and drink high in salt, sugar and fat, should be introduced. All well and good.

This week Jamie Oliver has also rounded on the government for the erosion of minimum nutritional standards for schools by giving free rein to Academies and Free Schools to decide their own dinner menus – thereby putting at risk the public health of 5m school children. The jury’s still out as to how detrimental this will in fact be.

More interestingly however, Jamie has affirmed his commitment to finding new ways of educating children about food, getting public opinion on side to lobby the politicians, and forging partnerships with like-minded change-makers inside and outside the food sector to promote healthier eating habits. His track record to date in delivering results is encouraging if flagship programmes such as Fifteen (apprenticeships), Ministry of Food (basic cooking skills), and School Kitchen Gardens (grow your own) are anything to go by. So he’s worth listening to.

Innovation, collaboration and affirmative action that engages and binds the interests of individuals, parents, schools, government and industry has much to commend it, as in reality we all need to play our part if the trend towards obesity is to be halted.

So it’s time to get off the fence and change our relationship with food. All of us.

The government needs to get into gear – sacrificing the nation’s health on the altar of free market dogma simply doesn’t make sense.  Big business has a significant reputational prize in their sights if they choose to collaborate pro-actively in tackling the fat, sugar and salt content of food and drinks, and in helping to improve food education hand in hand with sponsoring opportunities for children to engage in more sport and physical activity. School heads need to start thinking creatively about building excitement and interest around food and nutrition into the curriculum, aligning this to equipping students with practical culinary skills and a knowledge of where food comes from. In this way they can work co-operatively with parents and support them in their primary responsibility for their children’s diet, health and wellbeing and in helping them live long, happy lives.