Page last updated at 12:54 GMT, Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Oliver warns over unhealthy diets

By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News

Jamie Oliver addresses MPs

The economic downturn could lead to people eating more unhealthy food, TV chef Jamie Oliver says.

He told the House of Commons Health Committee for the first time in British history large numbers of people simply could not cook.

It meant that they already relied on cheap takeaways and fast foods.

And with money scarce, this reliance on unhealthy foods was only likely to get worse, as they had little ability to improvise to keep costs down.

Most exciting cooking is cheaper - I buy cheaper cuts of meat, rather than posh ones
Jamie Oliver

Mr Oliver was appearing before the cross-party group of MPs as part of an inquiry into health inequalities.

His latest show Jamie's Ministry of Food follows his attempts to teach families in the Rotherham to cook.

His idea is to teach "pyramid cooking", where each of the eight people he trains will teach two of their friends, and they will do the same until 250,000 have been taught to cook.

The 33-year-old chef targeted the South Yorkshire town after mothers were pictured shoving burgers and chips through school railings in protest at menus suggested in a previous series, Jamie's School Dinners.

During the appearance before MPs, Mr Oliver said whereas in the past when money was short people had been clever in how they put together nutritious fresh food there was now a "generation of young parents" who were nervous about raw ingredients.

Obesity problem

He said the situation made him concerned about the fight against obesity.

"This is the first time in British history that we have a large number of people who cannot cook.

"If you have knowledge about how to cook you will know how to buy efficiently and cheap.

"Most exciting cooking is cheaper. I buy cheaper cuts of meat, rather than posh ones."

He suggested councils should make it harder for fast-food outlets to open and said there needed to be better food labelling - he favours the traffic light system to help people identify nutritious foods.

And despite the extra investment in school meals since his series in 2005, Mr Oliver said there was still much more the education system could do.

He praised Scotland's lead in offering free school meals to five to seven-year-olds and said more training was needed for dinner ladies.

Mr Oliver also said dining rooms needed renovating to become more appealing and better able to cope with the numbers of pupils.

And he called on supermarkets to "adopt" a school to help them fund cooking lessons and suggested the government appoint a minister of food to oversee the drive.

He added: "Anyone who says there is one solution is bonkers."

Committee chairman Kevin Barron said: "Jamie is right in that we need to encourage people to cook from fresh at home.

"It is all too easy to rely on fast-food, but it does not need to be like that."

The MPs are analysing the government's record on health inequalities and will be publishing their report early next year.

Ministers in England pledged to reduce the inequality gap - measured by infant mortality and life expectancy - by 10% between 1997 and 2010.

But government data published in March showed the gap between the richest and poorest has actually widened in the past decade.

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