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Steven Gerrard and Jamie Oliver call on PM to fight obesity

image captionSteven Gerrard and Jamie Oliver call for compulsory cooking lessons and food education in schools.

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and England footballer Steven Gerrard are calling on the government to fight obesity through cookery teaching in schools.

They have joined figures in health and education as signatories to a letter to the prime minister suggesting changes be made to the national curriculum.

The letter says all pupils aged four to 14 would benefit from food education.

The Department for Education said it was already undertaking a review.

The letter says the "pride" of hosting the Olympic Games has been "tainted by the shameful fact that Britain is the fattest nation in Europe".

Professor David Haslam, chair of the National Obesity Forum, who also signed the letter, said: "The 2012 Olympics provide a unique opportunity to improve the nation's health and reduce the burden of obesity.

"However, sitting in front of the television, cheering our elite athletes on, while eating crisps and chocolates, drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is entirely counter-productive."

Teaching children through the National Curriculum how to prepare nutritious meals for themselves and their families would be an important step in tackling the rising obesity epidemic, the letter argues.

Without these skills, people are less likely to exercise meaningful control over their diet and food intake, and tend to rely on pre-prepared or takeaway foods, the campaigners add.

Oliver has previously campaigned for healthier school dinners while Gerrard is ambassador for the Get Up, Get Moving programme designed to increase awareness of physical activity and healthy eating.

Other signatories to the letter include Dr Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, and Professor Terence Stephenson, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

Besides the call for compulsory cookery lessons, they note the need for more sporting role models to promote the benefits of a healthy lifestyle to children.

They write: "As a group of charities and leading professionals in the field of medicine, food, sport, education and cookery, we firmly believe that the impact of obesity on our health is a very serious problem."

'Obesity crisis'

Dr Gerada said: "I have a number of patients who have never cooked a meal, ever, in their entire lives.

"The closest they may ever get to cooking a meal is putting something in the microwave.

"I think it is important that we put cookery back into schools so that at least children can see how much sugar goes into an average cake or how much fat goes into a pastry so they can make choices about what they're going to eat."

Prof Stephenson said: "The UK now has the highest rate of obesity in Europe, with one in three children overweight or obese by the age of nine....

image captionSteven Gerrard is ambassador for the Get Up, Get Moving programme.

"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."

The Department for Education said it was reviewing the National Curriculum and would make a further announcement in the future.

"We know that a healthy attitude towards food, developed early, is critical to the health, well-being and good educational attainment of young people," it said.

"That's why we've asked the School Food Trust to use their expertise and draw up early years nutritional guidance and why maintained schools must abide by the national minimum standards for nutrition."

It added that the Department of Health was committed to tackling obesity and major retailers and food manufacturers had backed the government's Responsibility Deal aimed at helping people to cut their calorie consumption.

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