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Jamie Oliver Lectures the United Nations on Obesity Crisis

Moving beyond dressing up as a giant tomato and filling school buses with sand, Jamie Oliver has kicked his campaign to save the world up a notch with a letter asking United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to take up the topic of childhood obesity with the global body at a high-level meeting this week. And, as any good celebrity advocacy letter to an international organization would, Oliver's is filled with statistical citations, emotional appeal and self-referentiality.

So why should UN delegates care what a celebrity chef thinks? Oliver has the answer: "You may not know me, but I have spent many years now working in schools and communities and talking to governments in the US, Britain and Australia, campaigning against the epidemic of obesity which is threatening the lives of our children and has a good chance of bringing our economies to a standstill through bad health within twenty years." Here's the letter:


His Excellency Ban Ki-Moon
Secretary-General of the United Nations
New York, NY 10017, USA

Dear Secretary-General,

In the few minutes that it takes you to read this letter, more than 25 of our fellow human beings will have died from obesity and diet-related diseases. That’s 2.8m people a year, according to the World Health Organisation, dying from one of the entirely preventable diseases which combined kill more people in the world than wars, terrorism, HIV and road accidents.

This will take leadership and urgent action to solve.

You may not know me, but I have spent many years now working in schools and communities and talking to governments in the US, Britain and Australia, campaigning against the epidemic of obesity which is threatening the lives of our children and has a good chance of bringing our economies to a standstill through bad health within twenty years.

More recently, I have become involved in leading a global grassroots movement, bringing together the health professionals, education specialists, nutritionists, fellow chefs and ordinary people who simply want to change their lives and their childrens’ health prospects for the better.

Now is the time for the United Nations and national governments to take a vital stand on NCD’s (Non-Communicable Diseases) which is both relevant and appropriate for the scale of the deaths caused.

One in ten people in the world is obese. It’s affecting our kids – 42 million are overweight before they even reach school age, and most of those beautiful children will be suffering from the early stages of heart disease and diabetes by the time they reach adulthood.

People still don’t realize that the problem is not just limited to rich countries, that worldwide being obese or overweight now causes more deaths than under-nutrition. It’s convenient for everyone to think that it’s just America which has the biggest problem. Not many people know that obesity rates in women are the same in middle eastern countries as in Europe. The sad fact is, you are more likely to die at a younger age, when families and businesses depend on you most, in the low and middle income countries which can least afford to fight with drugs and hospital treatment.

If the world continues to lose its national food traditions and cooking skills, and with them the knowledge which helped our grandmothers to nourish and feed our families with fresh, economical, balanced meals, we will only be left with one option: a global diet of fast and processed food and drink. And all the research is shouting loudly that it’s when fast-food becomes every meal, every day, that’s when we start getting into difficulties.

Secretary-General, I have seen young mothers feeding toddlers cola through a feeding bottle because they don’t understand good nutrition. I’ve shown simple fresh vegetables to teenage students in the United Kingdom and America and they can’t identify a cucumber or an aubergine or a pear. I don’t blame these people – they’ve simply never been given the information they need to make good food choices. If parents can’t cook, how can they feed themselves and their growing families?

But there is a simple solution: education. For the last few years, one of my missions through my Foundation has been to challenge parents to stand up for their children and tell them all that together we can make a difference, that we must understand what the wrong food is doing to our bodies. Parents need to get involved and fight for the education that will enable them and their children to be streetwise when it comes to food and to understand what different foods will do to the human body if we eat too much of them. I’ll admit that I don’t have all the answers but I do know from the work I have been doing to improve food in schools and give people basic cooking skills through Ministry of Food centers that teaching people to understand a balanced diet can make a difference. Quickly.

So, Secretary-General, the time for “can” is over. I now believe that in 2011 we MUST make a difference and the meeting in New York is an opportunity for you and your colleagues to make that difference.

Earlier this year I spent some time in Los Angeles, one of the wealthiest cities in the world. I visited communities where, just a few miles from the Hollywood sign, there is 80% obesity. I heard first-hand how diabetes is affecting entire families, and how worried kids are that this will become their future too. I believe that there are too many countries where kids are leaving school with no ability to feed themselves in a balanced way – and this has been going on for generations so we’ve got hundreds of millions of people globally who live off fast and processed food.

The world cannot afford to pay for these diseases. Obesity already accounts for 10% of US healthcare expenditure. It’s predicted to be 20% in another ten years. But the USA is just the tip of the ice berg - spending £10milllion an hour on obesity.

I have a simple message for the New York summit: People embrace knowledge. When the delegates meet next week, I believe you need to think less like politicians and more like the mothers and fathers that many of you are.

And everyone has to eat every day. The knowledge to be able to feed yourself and your family in a nutritious and balanced way should be a basic human right. It’s also fun, easy and tasty if you know how.

The United Nations must take urgent action to put pressure on governments to ensure that every person working in health has the food education and knowledge of good nutrition to become frontline advocates in the fight against obesity.

Cooking skills and national family meals must be kept alive in homes, schools and communities across the world. Without them, our only option will be the one which is killing us.

Please don’t walk away from this. The world needs measureable goals and clarity on how to reach those goals.

Thank you for listening.

Yours in hope,


· Jamie's letter to the United Nations []
· All Jamie Oliver Coverage on Eater [-E-]