childhood obesity jamie with children at school

We’re throwing our efforts behind the goal to halve childhood obesity in the UK by 2030. And to do that we need to change the whole food environment for kids...

Over the past 30 years, food has changed dramatically. Life is busier – in many ways better – but eating now needs to fit around our fast-paced lives. Food has become a convenience; ready with minimal prep, and available on the go, wherever we are.

Meanwhile, 20% of primary school children are leaving school with obesity. These kids are over five times more likely to have obesity as adults, and have a higher risk of developing type-2 diabetes, cancer, heart and liver disease.

So, if cheaper, easier, more accessible food is what we really need – why is the majority of it seriously unhealthy? Instead of producing convenient food that’s high in salt, sugar and unhealthy fat, we should be making healthier options more accessible, affordable and convenient.

In my lifetime we’ve seen the success of two major health campaigns – anti-smoking and wearing seatbelts. Both required changing cultural norms and were initially met with anger and confusion. But with effort, optimism and inspiration, we’ve seen seatbelts and smoking restrictions become the norm.

Surely we can create a society and a food system that doesn’t foster diet-related disease, obesity and type-2 diabetes?

That’s why I’m so excited about our ambition to halve childhood obesity by 2030. I really, truly, fiercely believe that if you do the right thing, in the right way, and if you demand change, then good things happen. If government, business, schools and individuals all come together we can achieve this ambitious goal.

I’m incredibly proud of what we have achieved and the high standards we set. But we’re just getting started and there is a huge amount of work to do.

Jamie Oliver

1. HOW CAN MARKETING & ADVERTISING BE A FORCE FOR GOOD?

We all know that cartoon characters and celebrities can attract children to particular products – and science backs that up too. So why are kids’ favourite cartoons selling sugary cereal?

Licensed characters like Frozen’s Elsa and her Disney friends should get a promotion and only market healthy products instead of food that’s high in unhealthy fats, salt and sugar!

Chapter 2 of the government’s Child Obesity Action Plan outlined some fantastic actions to reduce junk food marketing to kids. So we need to make sure these policies get over the line.

Some ideas for change are:

  • A 9pm watershed online and on TV for food and drinks which are high in salt, fat or sugar (HFSS) and therefore don’t meet with the Nutrient Profiling Model. Read more about our ongoing campaign here!
  • Promotions make people eat more and spend more. At the moment they’re skewed towards unhealthy food… can we create a more level playing field?
  • How can sports sponsorship be a force for good? Read more about our #HealthySponsorship campaign here.
  • Give Elsa a promotion! Licensed characters should only promote non-HFSS products.

2. HOW DO WE MAKE KIDS’ EVERYDAY FOOD AND DRINK CHOICES BETTER FOR THEM?

Over the last decades, some of our everyday products like yoghurt and cereal have become pumped with hidden sugars. It is totally possible to lower the fat and sugar in popular products without compromising taste. The government can speed this process up by encouraging brands to reformulate their products.

Look at the sugary drinks tax – before it was even introduced almost 50% of drinks that would have qualified for the levy reduced their sugar content. And all the money raised from the tax has gone to into schools! It’s truly a tax for good that polls really well with the general public.

Some ideas for change are:

  • Expand the sugary drinks levy to cover other products that constitute significant sources of sugar to children’s diets, like milky drinks.
  • All funds from these levies can be spent on promoting children’s health
  • Compulsory sugar and calorie reduction targets set by Public Health England with meaningful sanctions for non-compliance, with the intention of improving the overall nutritional value of food.
  • Restrict the sale of energy drinks* to under 16s (require ID) across all retail settings. These drinks are #notforchildren – it says it on the back of the can!

3. HOW DO WE MAKE IT EASIER FOR KIDS TO KNOW WHAT’S IN THEIR FOOD AND DRINK?

Busy parents need simple, clear, universally applied information in order to make healthy choices. At the moment, harmful amounts of free sugars can be hidden in family staples such as breakfast cereal, pasta sauce, ready-meals and yoghurt.

Companies are currently allowed to tread the line between truth and lies. A sugary yoghurt should not be allowed to tempt parents with low-fat claims.

Some ideas for change are:

  • Mandatory front-of-pack colour-coded nutrition labels
  • Companies should not be allowed to make any nutrition or health claim if the product is also high in either salt, fat or sugar and therefore doesn’t meet with the current Nutrient Profiling Model.

4. HOW DO WE HELP SCHOOLS PROMOTE HEALTH?

Our kids eat in school kitchens 190 days of the year, from the age of four to 16, and we all want the food they eat there to feed their brains. Of course schools are not the only people that need to do their bit to promote child health, but they are uniquely positioned to have a real impact on this issue, as the place that kids go day in, day out.

Ofsted should look at the whole package – physical activity, the curriculum, school food and school facilities that promote the health and wellbeing of their pupils.

Some ideas for change are:

  • Full implementation and monitoring of the recommendations in Chapter 1 of the Child Obesity Action Plan, including updating the School Food Standards to account for updated dietary recommendations for free sugars and fibre.**
  • School Food Standards should be mandatory for all schools including academies.
  • Healthy Rating Scheme should be mandatory for all schools including academies.
  • Food standards should be adhered to in Early Years Settings. (Let’s develop example menus for Early Years settings, for example)***
  • OFSTED or its equivalent must monitor the above actions.

5. HOW DO WE HELP OUR AMAZING HEALTHCARE SYSTEM TO SERVE KIDS BETTER?

The NHS is the backbone of our society and it’s struggling with the impact of soaring obesity costs. Head of NHS England, Simon Stevens, revealed that taxpayers are spending more on treating obesity-related conditions than on the fire and police services combined. Our hard-working frontline staff need better support to deal with this issue.

Some ideas for change are:

  • Mandatory training for GPs and health professionals on key areas of nutrition, including how to talk about weight in a helpful way and refer patients to experts. This could include referrals to weight loss clinics with registered nutritionists and dieticians, or to cooking and food education programs certified by RSPH.
  • The government should commit to increased and continued investment in public health budgets to ensure the continuation of the National Childhood Measurement Programme and that Local Authorities provide, and signpost to, appropriate weight management services.

6. WHAT ABOUT THE WORKPLACE? AND PUBLIC BUILDINGS?

The focus of the government’s Child Obesity Action Plan has so far been on kids – for good reason – but one of the best ways to help kids be healthy is to help their family network be healthy.

We have to ask, “What does a healthy workplace look like?” Poor eating habits, such as skipping breakfast, can cost employers almost 97 million working days. This isn’t just an issue for government, everyone needs to pitch in.

Some ideas for change are:

  • Workplace catering to offer healthy options, reasonable portion sizes, and clear nutrition information.****
  • Vending machines in public buildings (including the one in Number 10) should provide healthier choices.
  • Create a healthy food environment for NHS staff, making hospital food standards mandatory and guaranteeing all hospitals will meet the CQUIN asks by 2019.*****
  • Support flexi-hour arrangements for breastfeeding mothers.

7. HOW DO WE MAKE SURE THERE ARE HEALTHY OPTIONS WHEN KIDS EAT OUT?

More kids are eating out than ever. How can we incentivise restaurants and takeaways to make sure that there is always a healthy option available? And not just an expensive salad that looks a bit wet and unappealing!

We also need the right information to be available for parents. At the moment, it’s all too easy for kids to consume too many of the wrong things because there isn’t nutrition info. For restaurant chains and franchises that have the resources, we think calorie labels and clear nutrition information should be available on the menu.

Some ideas for change are:

  • Amend the Food Safety Act to reflect the impact of nutrition on long-term health
  • Create health standards for restaurants. And introduce rate relief or other incentives for restaurants based on these standards that provide healthy options, reasonable portion sizes, and clear nutrition information on menus.
  • Include mandatory calorie labels on menus for chains (and franchises with 5 or more locations). Full nutrition info should be available online and in restaurants.
  • Give local authorities greater powers to limit the prevalence of hot food takeaways near schools.

8. SETTING TARGETS AND MEASURING PROGRESS

The government has set a bold target to halve childhood obesity by 2030

We urgently need to make proper, meaningful steps to protect our kids from the future they currently face. We have many of the tools we need, it’s just about making those changes happen. This is not about a brand, a company, a government or a party any more – it’s about people, education, truth and choice.

Download Jamie’s cross-party letter from the leaders of all the main parties

*Energy drinks with more than 150 mg of caffeine per litre
** SACN Carbohydrates and Health Report
*** Example menus for early years settings in England
****This could include a mandatory percentage of healthy options on the menu or clear nutrition information on menus, e.g. calorie labelling. Or serving every meal with a mandatory portion of vegetables. Here’s the eatwell guide
*****More information here on establishing food standards for NHS hospitals. Here’s the CQUIN 2017-2019 briefing for hospital food