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5 Feb 2013 - The Telegraph - Celebrity chefs unite to fight obesity and malnutrition

Britain’s children are in the midst of a major nutritional crisis. Celebrity chefs, executives from the top British food brands, and Olympians have united to demand action from the Government.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Tom Aikens, and food-world chiefs including the founders of Ella’s Kitchen, and Leon are calling for a “food manifesto for the under-fives”, in order to fight the dietary “crisis” among Britain’s children.

Childhood obesity and dietary-related diabetes are rising, yet there is also increasing evidence of malnutrition and thousands of children going hungry.

The current economic climate has seen a 25 per cent decrease in the purchase of fruit and vegetables by Britain’s poorest households, and just over a quarter of parents said that the price of buying fresh ingredients was the main barrier to children’s healthy eating.

At the same time, nearly a quarter of children entering reception classes in 2011/12 were overweight or obese. And the problem grows with age: a third of primary school children aged 10 or 11 are overweight.

Diet-related disease costs the NHS an estimated £6 billion a year.

“We currently have an epidemic of obesity, which in five years will turn into an epidemic of diabetes and in another five years will turn into an epidemic of heart disease,” said Professor David Haslam, a GP and chairman of the National Obesity Forum.

Paul Lindley, founder and CEO of Ella’s Kitchen, the children’s food maker, is leading the Averting a recipe for disaster campaign, which calls for a cross-party, 25-year plan to improve nutrition for under-fives. Also backing the campaign are Alex Partridge, the Olympic rower, Tom Aikens, the chef and restauranteur, and Samantha Hyde, acting director of UK programmes for Save the Children.

“The issues around diet-related health facing our children are broad and multi-faceted. They require a coordinated and long-term strategy, that will address the challenges of both obesity and malnutrition,” says Mr Lindley.

“To have any meaningful, sustainable impact, we must focus on newborn babies and children under five, who are developing food habits today.”

“All the political parties have to wake up and recognise the seriousness of the threat to our society, its health and its economy, that diet-related illness in our children will cause.”

Among the group’s suggestions, which they would like all three parties to adopt for their 2015 manifestos, are:

  • Compulsory nutritional education for children in school (According to the group’s survey, 87 per cent of parents and 70 per cent of primary school teachers think that cooking and nutrition education should be a compulsory part of the curriculum. But nearly half of teachers do not believe that the Government is doing enough to support schools in encouraging healthy eating);
  • A “food enthusiast in residence” in every school who would help coach parents and students on healthy eating;
  • A free, healthy breakfast for every primary school child;
  • Open up Britain’s professional kitchens to teach parents of young children how to cook.