A group of registered dietitians and nutritionists are asking Jamie Oliver to re-think his approach to focus on children’s wellbeing instead of weight
Far from his days as the Naked Chef, Jamie Oliver has become the cheeky-chappy face of British cuisine with his celeb pals and family-friendly approach. Alongside his TV shows and books, Jamie has become an activist and campaigner, trying to change the way our children eat and reduce childhood obesity.
On his website you’ll find an article outlining his 10-step plan to ‘tackle’ childhood obesity, with lines like “A poor diet might not sound as scary as murder or terrorism, but it’s much more likely to kill you” and “We urgently need to make proper, meaningful steps to protect our kids from the future they currently face”.
His fear-filled comments and strict campaigns have already caused a stir on Twitter, especially when he proposed to ban 2-for-1 pizza deals.
*BREAKING NEWS*— GaViN 📼🐝 (@gavinworby) June 1, 2018
Jamie Oliver demands that ALL FOOD be banned, apart from water & stale bread, and we're only allowed to eat on a Wednesday, and maybe at the weekend, if we've been good. Probably. pic.twitter.com/pneJaQ4aCD
jamie oliver should stay with a working class family with 3 kids for two weeks and have to do the food shop/cooking on a single parent budget then we’ll see if frozen pizzas are really that evil— AALIYAH🧜🏽♀️ (@NotThatAaliyah) June 1, 2018
He’s now catching the attention of the experts.
Registered Nutritionist Laura Thomas teamed up with Sarah Dempster (Registered Nutritionist), Helen West (Registered Dietitian) and Rosie Saunt (Registered Dietitian) to pen an open letter to Jamie, expressing their concern and suggesting an alternative approach.
The letter starts with a note on the language Jamie uses and the impact it can have.
“By talking about “war” and saying “the future of the NHS is at stake”, we worry that you are contributing to a stigmatising and divisive conversation about weight. We are asking you to think beyond your intentions, to the potential impact and repercussions and reconsider how you communicate your message.”
The group continues to discuss health and point out that when discussing health, we have to consider children’s relationship with food and bodies. This is backed up by some shocking statistics on dieting and body dissatisfaction, including this one: 40.7% of 16-year-old girls have had some form of disordered eating behaviour.
“These statistics aren’t surprising, considering that in our current culture we are so afraid of “obesity” that parents are engaging in weight-related talk with children as young as two-years old. Recent studies show us that, where a parent is critical of a child’s weight, however well-meaning, the child may be more likely to develop an unhealthy relationship with food and their body.”
Further on in the letter, the group discuss weight stigma and specifically what the World Health Organization (WHO) has outlined as being consequences of weight stigma in their 2017 report. Included in the list of consequences is:
- Low self-esteem and self-confidence
- Suicidal thoughts and acts
- Depression, anxiety and other psychological disorders
- Avoidance of physical activity
Touching again on Jamie’s use of the word 'war' in his campaigns, the group explain why they think this contributes to weight stigma.
“You have described action on children’s weight as a “war”. This language is ubiquitous – the idea of fighting a battle over children’s bodies primes children to be in conflict with food and their bodies at a time when they are vulnerable to perturbations in body image and self-esteem. By positioning body fatness as the enemy, we believe that your campaign is directly contributing to weight stigma.”
Then there is, of course, the fact that having a lower weight does not necessarily mean you’re healthy. The group explain the science behind this and point out that those in higher BMI categories who engage in health promoting behaviours have been shown to have similar risk of disease as someone within the ‘normal’ BMI range who engages in health promoting behaviours.
Towards the end of the letter the group look for some common ground.
“We agree that protecting children from commercial influences such as aggressive marketing – of both food and unattainable beauty standards – has a role to play. It’s also important to acknowledge that the food environment alone is not responsible for people’s relationships with food and their bodies.”
Finally, the group ask for what they would like to see instead, based on WHO's recommendations and providing an example of an initiative that inspired change while being inclusive and empowering, rather than fear-fuelled.
“We can learn from initiatives like This Girl Can, which inspired almost 3 million women to be more active, not by telling them that they need to change their bodies or to take action to prevent life-limiting diseases, but by showing them that a more active life is not only possible but is enjoyable too and encouraging them to take the first step towards enjoying a more active life, whatever their size or circumstances.”
The final paragraph sums up what the group would like to see from someone with such influence, asking for a change in the conversation on children’s weight.
“We think it’s time to change the conversation on children’s weight and we call on you to:
Focus on health improvement rather than weight management – frame your message in a weight inclusive manner that promotes wellbeing for all.
Promote body acceptance and diversity which will lead to people feeling better about themselves and may make it more likely that they will engage in health promoting behaviour whilst also supporting their mental health
Advocate more strongly for reductions in underlying socioeconomic disparities that limit people’s lifestyle choices and lead to health inequality (access to adequate income, jobs, education, housing and food).”
AN OPEN LETTER TO JAMIE OLIVER// ✨ Those who have followed me for a while will know I’ve kept uncharacteristically quiet about @jamieoliver’s campaign around childhood ‘obesity’ and I got so. many. messages. Asking me to share my thoughts. ✨ As usual, I have a LOT to say about this, but I wanted to put my energy towards a more productive conversation, rather than just ranting on social media ✨ This was the impetus behind the open letter which I wrote alongside the brilliant @wee_foodies @helenlouwest And @rosie_saunt and which was published on my website overnight ✨ We aren’t ‘calling out’ Jamie, we are simply trying to raise awareness that how we discuss children’s bodies MATTERS ✨ we know that children are vulnerable to food and body image disturbances and what they hear from parents, teachers, and men on the telly about good and bad bodies and foods can have a profound impact on physical and mental health and educational attainment ✨ we’re asking you to let Jamie know he has a responsibility not to harm our children, albeit unintentionally, but by leading a campaign contributing to weight stigma and disordered eating ✨ we are asking for a campaign that focuses on #wellbeingnotweight and trying to raise awareness among the general public about these issues ✨ please help us by sharing the letter with family and friends and tagging @jamieoliver below and on Twitter so we can get his attention and let him know people care about this issue ✨ Together we can help end weight based discrimination and protect children from eating disturbances ✨ as always, thanks for your incredible support team ✨ Link in bio or 👉👉👉 #wellbeingnotweight
The group are asking people to share the letter far and wide and to help them get Jamie’s attention. Will he respond? As someone who had an eating disorder as a teen and has been through the long, difficult journey to body acceptance - I know I’ll be watching and hoping that he hears these experts and enters in a new dialogue that focuses on wellbeing, not weight.