Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall & Childhood Obesity

Two chefs have been all over the news in the UK for the past week. Jamie Oliver is probably fairly well known world-wide, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall probably less so. Both are passionate about food, cooking and, in more recent years, using their celebrity to try to do something about the obesity epidemic – particularly in children. They have nine children between them! Hence the interest is personal.

The UK statistics are sobering. A comprehensive paper in The Lancet in 2014 reported on the global incidence of overweight and obesity in children and adults (Ref 1). Children were defined as those under the age of 20. I wrote an article in The Guardian on this at the time (Ref 2). UK girls topped the European list with 29.2% overweight or obese. Greece was second with 29.1% and Portugal third with 27.1% of girls overweight or obese. UK boys fared a bit better at 26.1% for overweight and obese combined. This was 10th in the European table, but only because there were many other countries with particularly high rates of overweight and obesity in young males. Greek, Maltese and Israeli boys were topping 30%, for example.

In the Lancet report, 24.4% of Australian boys and 23% of Australian girls were overweight or obese. These figures were 29.6% and 28.7% for NZ boys and girls respectively. South Africa reported 18.8% of boys overweight or obese and 26.3% of girls. Completing the data for the most common nations where recipients of this note reside: 25.5% of Canadian boys and 22% of Canadian girls were overweight or obese. The numbers for the US were 28.8% of boys and 29.7% of girls.

This is not a UK problem, therefore. In the English-speaking so-called developed nations, one quarter to one third of our children are overweight or obese. In 2014, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that there were promising signs that US childhood obesity was improving (Ref 3). The data claimed a “significant decline” in obesity among children aged 2 to 5 years. There was talk that Michelle Obama’s “Lets Move” campaign had made the difference. An alternative examination of the data showed that childhood obesity was still growing – just not as fast as it had been (Ref 4). Certainly the Lancet 2014 data suggest that the US problem is as big as anywhere else.

A letter to the Prime Minister

On 25th April 2018, Jamie Oliver wrote to British Prime Minister, Theresa May. The letter was entitled “A comprehensive strategy to tackle childhood obesity” and it was countersigned by the leaders of the other main parties in the UK: Labour; Liberal Democrats; Scottish National Party; and the Green Party (Ref 5). On 1st May, Jamie and Hugh appeared in the British Parliament before a health select committee to present their case for a multi-pronged childhood obesity strategy. The day after their appearance, a number of national newspapers reviewed the session and described their contribution as frank, refreshing and well presented.


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