Dr Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist seeing the consequences of poor diet and obesity on a daily basis, has become a passionate campaigner in the field of obesity and health. I am delighted to say that he came across my book: “The Obesity Epidemic: What caused it? How can we stop it?” and, although it flies in the face of ‘conventional wisdom’, he loved it!
Aseem contacted me recently and we met up in London and his energy and determination to do something about obesity is inspirational. He is very sensibly focussing on childhood obesity as the starting point. Let’s get some foundations in place to help the next generation and then we can address the horrific state of many of our adult citizens.
Aseem has networked a ‘coalition of the willing’ – people who want to make a difference to the weight of our nation – from Jamie Oliver to Dr David Haslam, Chair of The National Obesity Forum, to Christine Blower, the General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, to Charlie Powell, Director of The Children’s Food Campaign and more. Professor Terence Stephenson, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, was a crucial signatory. Professor Stephenson recently launched an initiative on behalf of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges seeking evidence for our current obesity strategy. I was delighted to be asked to put my name to the letter, which was sent to Prime Minister David Cameron, at the weekend.
Aseem is also a member of Professor Stephenson’s obesity steering group and wrote a supporting article in The Observer on the day that the Royal Colleges’ initiative was announced. The medical profession is starting to ‘join up’ in a way that the government needs to emulate.
The letter to David Cameron initiated and written by Aseem called for “Food education and cooking skills”. This is not about learning how to cook pizza, pasta and cheesecake (as my 16 year old step son has learned in his GCSE in Nutrition!), but about teaching children about nutrients and where they will find essential fats, complete protein, vitamins and minerals. No surprise – these will be found in the real food provided by our planet and not the fake food provided by food manufacturers.
Aseem managed to get Steven Gerrard on board – and the first team doctor for the Liverpool football team – Dr Zafar Iqbal. Great to have elite athletes and their medical staff endorsing a positive message rather than the Mars, Cadbury, Coca-Cola, McDonalds tragically so often associated with sport.
The BBC headlined the story throughout Sunday and Assem’s day was long – starting with an appearance on BBC breakfast at 6.15am! Footage of children learning how to prepare and stir fry meat and vegetables provided a great backdrop to the sensible comments being presented. Steve Iredale, President of the National Association of Head teachers, was equally impressive in his pre-recorded interview. He was another signatory and a welcome one given the facts that Aseem presented about 71% of packed lunches containing fizzy drinks, crisps, confectionery bars and other items that will only make childhood obesity worse.
Aseem had recently written in the Observer about his visit to a primary school in Southwark, (Britain’s child obesity capital) where he was invited to speak to kids about healthy eating by a very proactive teacher who had herself taken things into her own hands to stop kids eating junk food in school. The article received much interest and was tweeted by Jamie Oliver to over 2 million of his followers worldwide.
Yesterday’s story was covered extensively throughout the day:
Sky News: Stars cook up lesson plan to fight obesity.
And many more.
The Huffington Post also covered the story and used one of my quotes from the press release.
As Aseem said on the breakfast TV sofa – this is just the first step. Many more initiatives will be needed. Given the energy and drive of the people who signed that letter, I have no doubt that a momentum has been started that will not stop until we start to make a difference!
The Press Release
Jamie Oliver, senior NHS figures and teaching union leaders are urging David Cameron to make learning to cook compulsory for school pupils in a bid to tackle soaring levels of childhood obesity
In a letter to the Prime Minister leading professionals in the field of medicine, food, sport, education and cookery call on the Department for Education to introduce a minimum of 24 hrs practical cooking skills and food education for all pupils at each of the first three key stages (ages 4-14) into the national curriculum.
The group believe that this is an important step which will help tackle the rising epidemic of obesity with related diseases costing the NHS £5 billion per year.
Research shows that practical cooking skills learned in school enable individuals to prepare nutritious meals for themselves and their families. Not having these skills means people are less likely to exercise meaningful control over their diet and food intake and tend to rely on pre-prepared or take away foods.
Although there is proof that legislation has improved the nutritional and health values of school food, this has been undermined by unregulated packed lunches, which make up approximately 60% of all pupils lunches. Recent research by the school food trust has demonstrated up to 71% containing food items such as crisps, chocolates and fizzy drinks.
The letter acknowledges the pride of hosting the Olympic games has been tainted by the shameful fact that Britain is officially the fattest nation in Europe and need for more sporting role models to promote the benefits of a healthy lifestyle to children.
Steven Gerrard has been proactive as an ambassador for the Zesh Rehman Foundation working closely with the Liverpool FC first team doctor to promote the benefits of increased physical activity and healthy eating to children in schools, especially in areas with high social and economic deprivation.
Professor Terence Stephenson, President of The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said:
“The UK now has the highest rate of obesity in Europe with one in three children overweight or obese by the age of 9. If these lifestyles don’t change, the UK will have an adult population suffering with diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, giving an already cash strapped NHS a £10 billion a year medical bill.
“We need to act now but we will not win this fight alone. Parents, schools, healthcare professionals and the government must take a united approach in order to combat this obesity crisis.”
Professor David Haslam, Chair of The National Obesity Forum said:
“The 2012 Olympics provide a unique opportunity to improve the nation’s health, and reduce the burden of obesity which leads to diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other conditions; and ultimately premature death. However sitting in front of the television, cheering our elite athletes on, whilst eating crisps and chocolates, drinking sugar sweetened beverages is entirely counterproductive. National enthusiasm must be accompanied by an improved diet and enhanced physical activity by the entire population, not just by our Olympians, for a significant difference to be made to the deteriorating health of the population.”
Charlie Powell, Director of The Children’s Food Campaign said:
“Cooking is a vital skill for life. Without it how can children put into practice what they know about good food? It’s common sense that all children should learn how to cook at school, so it should be part of the National Curriculum. If the government is serious about improving children’s health, keeping cooking in schools is one of the best ways to do it.”
Zoë Harcombe, Author and obesity researcher said:
“Nutritional education must be an integral part of this initiative: where are essential fats? complete proteins? vitamins and minerals? Why are they so vital for our health? What will we suffer without them? To reverse the obesity epidemic we need our fellow humans to be able to source and prepare real food, not to microwave fake food. Food education and cooking skills were traditionally passed down from one generation to the next. We seek the Prime Minister’s help to restore them in our future generation.”
All media enquiries to Dr Aseem Malhotra, Cardiology Specialist Registrar, London
List of signatories:
Dr Aseem Malhotra, Cardiology Specialist Registrar and then in alphabetical order:
Sir William Atkinson KBE, Executive Head teacher, The Phoenix Canberra Schools Federation
Christine Blower General Secretary, National Union of Teachers
Professor Simon Capewell, Chair, Clinical Epidemiology Department of Public Health & Policy, University of Liverpool
Dr Peter Carter, Chief Executive & General Secretary, Royal College of Nursing
Tam Fry, Honorary Chairman, Child Growth Foundation
Zoë Harcombe, Author & obesity researcher
Professor David Haslam, Chair, National Obesity Forum
Dr Clare Gerada, Chair, Royal College of General Practitioners
Steven Gerrard, Captain, Liverpool FC, England International, Ambassador for ‘Get Up, Get Moving’ ZRF Project
Dr Zafar Iqbal, First Team Doctor, Liverpool FC, Health Advisor, ZRF
Steve Iredale, President, National Association of Head Teachers
Tim Lang, PhD, Professor of Food Policy, Centre for Food Policy, City University
Paul Lincoln, Chief Executive, National Heart Forum
Jamie Oliver MBE
Charlie Powell, Director, Children’s Food Campaign
Rob Rees, Chairman, Children’s Food Trust
Professor Terence Stephenson, President, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
Professor John Wass, Professor of Endocrinology, Oxford University