Jamie Oliver and Banksy

Stand Up, Kids, Today We’re Going to Fight Obesity

Jamie Oliver is back in the thick of things, fighting childhood obesity in the UK. Together with a charismatic TV doctor, Rangan Chatterjee, he’s proposing some simple solutions to the UK’s problem with childhood obesity. It’s time for kids to stand up in school, they say. Standing desks and better food will do the trick. Says Chatterjee:

I want to see standing desks in schools as normal. I also want to encourage children to squat rather than sit.

Of course, the devil is in the details. Standing desks are only a tool, not a panacea. They might lead kids to burn more calories. But specific strategies for using them, backed by evidence for results, need more work.

A Passion for Action

Oliver offers great passion – both for self promotion and for promoting better food in schools. In August, he concluded that Prime Minister Theresa May had diluted his proposals for reducing childhood obesity. So he launched a furious attack. He told the Times that her administration was showing that they “don’t give a f###.”

Now he’s back in talks with government advisers, MPs, health advocates, and TV chefs to push stronger measures and a commitment to reduce childhood obesity by half before 2030.

The Challenge of a Moonshot

The passion is great. But it’s great only if it is coupled with a commitment to do the hard work of finding solutions that will really work. Glossing over a devilishly hard problem like obesity inevitably leads to failure.

“Stand up to fight obesity” sounds remarkably like Let’s Move! It has the ring of an inspiring campaign. And it might do some good to bring more physical activity into school routines. Let’s Move! did a lot to promote physical activity and better school nutrition.

But childhood obesity kept on going up, despite the good work of the Let’s Move! campaign. Simple slogans and simple solutions are appealing, but they need to be paired with a serious understanding of the wickedly difficult problem of obesity.

That’s a more complete recipe for success.

Click here for more from the Times. For more on the potential for standing desks in schools, click here.

Jamie Oliver and Banksy, photograph © Lord Jim / flickr

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January 7, 2018

11 Responses to “Stand Up, Kids, Today We’re Going to Fight Obesity”

  1. January 07, 2018 at 5:13 pm, Martha Shea Smith said:

    This image is appalling to me as an educator.

  2. January 07, 2018 at 5:36 pm, Amy Endrizal said:

    Another fine post, Ted. It never occurred to me that Jamie Oliver might have something in common with the Trump Administration: resistance to evidence-based problem solving. Facially plausible “solutions” to a complex, multifaceted problem aren’t the answer, no matter how much passion and wishful thinking you throw behind it. Science, please!

    Still, what better place to start critical thinking and an understanding of the role of evidence in solving problems than in school? I hope UK schoolkids find a health champion whose passion extends to the decidedly unsexy work of developing, piloting, and evaluating evidence-based interventions to reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity. (And Jamie, please be aware that in the spirit of inclusivity of children of all abilities, the slogan, “Stand up to fight obesity,” rings a bit able-ist.)

  3. January 07, 2018 at 8:14 pm, Allen Browne said:

    Yup – it just ain’t that simple. I hope his passion extends to working with and supporting thoughtful physiologically based research. We know the energy regulatory system and now we need to figure out how it goes haywire for some people – probably many different ways given the complexity of the system. The next question is who has which dysfunction – personalized medicine.

  4. January 08, 2018 at 2:36 am, Ted said:

    Well said, Amy. Thanks!

  5. January 08, 2018 at 2:42 am, Ted said:

    Thanks, Allen!

  6. January 08, 2018 at 2:46 am, Ted said:

    I’m guessing that it’s the graffiti art by Banksy that disturbs you, Martha. Here is a bit more about him: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banksy

  7. January 08, 2018 at 4:51 am, Rhoda Klapp said:

    Is there a reference for the claim that UK childhood obesity is rising? The graph for the last few years show it pretty well flat. It is such received wisdom in the press that the claim is never questioned there, but here we should be dealing with facts rather than propaganda.

    Oh, and Jamie is a publicity-seeking celebrity. His views are no more relevant than anyone else’s.

  8. January 08, 2018 at 6:14 am, Ted said:

    You can find the data here, Rhoda: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/statistics-on-obesity-physical-activity-and-diet-england-2017

  9. January 08, 2018 at 11:09 am, Rhoda Klapp said:

    Ted, on your link, page 20 of the report, childhood obesity is flat. I download that report every year and I’m familiar with it. There is no problem of rising childhood obesity, especially as BMI is not a very good measure. But my objection here is the lack of a reference to justify the claim, and that people accept such claims without question.

  10. January 08, 2018 at 4:45 pm, Ted said:

    Thanks, Rhoda. On page 20, I see a steady rise in obesity for children aged 10-11 years (referred to as year 6). If you think NHS statistics are incorrect, I strongly recommend that you submit a detailed analysis for publication.

  11. January 10, 2018 at 4:39 pm, Rhoda Klapp said:

    I have no serious complaint with NHS stats. I don’t think BMI is a good tool, but it is the basis of the historical record. What I take issue with is the universally accepted claim that childhood obesity is rising without reference. The increase is not really a problem right now. The level might be a problem itself, but it may not really be increasing and we should be sticking to facts not veering into propaganda. Did you look at the year 3s? Or the essentially flat graph over time?