Jamie Oliver, chef and campaigner
Feb 27, 2018
2017 marked 15 years since I opened my first restaurant, Fifteen, and I did it here in London, where else! This city has one of the most vibrant food cultures on the planet.
Food is part of our beating heart, in a city that’s home to 30,000 food businesses worth over £20bn, and where one in four Londoners has a job linked to food.
Food brings prosperity to the city, it strengthens our communities, it lets us express our creativity and it sustains and binds our cultures. London’s food is a wonderful and powerful thing.
But here’s the problem – we’re not consistent. Our city’s food environment is also compromising our health, shortening our kids’ life-expectancy, reducing productivity, costing taxpayers billions of pounds, crippling our healthcare service, and widening the gap between the least and most disadvantaged people in our society.
I really care about our city, and the impact that poor diet is having on families and communities is evident every single day, on all of our streets.
The obesity crisis affects us all, but tragically some London families and kids have less defence against unhealthy environments and junk food than others. The Office of National Statistics says boys born in Camden in 2016, just like my youngest son River, can expect to live for 81 years – and have 64 years of good health. But, take a tube just 45 minutes across town to Tower Hamlets and the new-borns there will on average lose their good health at the age of 54, and can only expect to live to 78. Tell me – how is that possible? There’s nothing physically different between these kids, it’s all about what’s around them. London’s health and obesity lottery is a tragedy of design, caused by the unfair, unhealthy environments within our city.
"We need honest, accurate and truthful information to make good decisions. And we need the right access and support to be able to carry out our choices."
The obesity lottery is at crisis point. And this isn't just an abstract way to talk about inequality – we can literally plot out maps of how your local environment affects your health. London’s ‘obesity corridors’, identified by projects in Lambeth and Southwark, are areas where high rates of childhood obesity can be mapped against junk food-filled streets. Just as cholera used to be mapped against London’s dirty water routes, obesity clings to our high streets.
50% of meals eaten out of home are in fast food restaurants. Fried chicken shops are doing especially well, booming in number by 36% between 2003 and 2008 alone. The unhealthier food outlets there are in a neighbourhood, the greater the rates of childhood obesity. Fact.
In November 2017, the Mayor of London announced a proposal to ban the opening of new hot food takeaway restaurants within a 400m radius of schools. This is a great step in the right direction, but we need to do way more. There’s now a fast food outlet for every 1,000 Londoners, and a deliberate tendency for these to cluster around schools. We must now expand this ban to include mobile trucks and vans, which are the main culprits in parking up right outside schools and selling masses of unhealthy foods.
The Mayor’s endorsement of the Healthier Catering Commitment for businesses is also good news, but it’s just the start. What about establishing ‘safe zones’ on bus routes and around schools: with no junk food adverts allowed? We could also block the display of junk food adverts on digital billboards within certain time frames – the school runs for instance, between 8:00am - 9:00am and 3:00pm - 4:00pm.
There are so many small changes within our reach that would have extraordinary impact. It’s simply a matter of putting our heads together and getting it done!
We need a collection of simple, proven and popular policies to reset the way we think about food and health in London. Each policy works on its own. But, crucially, they come together to form a holistic strategy for our food environment.
The pillars of this plan are truth and choice. We need honest, accurate and truthful information to make good decisions. And we need the right access and support to be able to carry out our choices.
We need progress in five areas:
“Investing in school healthiness has to be a combined effort.”Liz Robinson's view
“Children were bombarded with nine junk food ads in a 30-minute period.”Caroline Cerny's view
“If you don’t have much money, you go for cheap empty calories.”Anna Taylor's view