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Obesity is quickly overtaking smoking as the number one cause of death in the U.S. as well as Canada and the UK. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is on a mission to change America’s eating habits one plate, one school lunch and one impoverished town at a time
Jamie Oliver is eager to bring his food philosophies to America and in his new series, “Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution” he visits America’s fattest and most unhealthy towns. Oliver, 34, is well known in the UK where he is a one man food conglomerate. He’s hosted 12 television series and cooking specials, he’s published 15 cook books, and he owns 11 restaurants around the world. He’s built a houseware and lifestyle empire that includes magazines, gourmet foods, and cookware that would make Martha Stewart envious. The man never stops. He blames it on his ADD and nervous energy.
If you don’t watch the Food Network you may not know who Jamie Oliver is. His introduction to the U.S. was on the cooking show The Naked Chef. No, he isn’t a cooking nudist. The Naked Chef refers to his food philosophy of simple, natural ingredients that are healthy and readily available. No pre-packaged foods, no fast foods. He uses only local organic ingredients and almost everything is made from scratch. Oliver makes beautiful foods without pretense; he measures in knobs (butter) and glugs (olive oil). Did I mention all of his foods are quick and easy to prepare, too?
Oliver is not just a business man. He is married and has three young daughters. And fatherhood has inspired him to help families break their dependence on fast food, believing that if they can learn to cook just a handful of dishes, they’ll get hooked on eating healthfully.
He recently (and successfully) took on the British school system and fought to change the lunches that were being fed to the student’s. Schools involved in the program reported a decrease in hyperactive behaviors and an increase in concentration among their students. School nurses reported a reduction in the number of asthma attacks and absenteeism due to illness. Those findings, along with “Feed Me Better" his online campaign and petition drive, compelled the British government to invest more than 1 billion dollars to expand the program and overhaul school lunches.
He’s concentrating on how families eat and what kids are being fed at school. Like the UK, our diet of processed foods and snacks is causing many health and obesity problems at very early ages. The show was filmed in Huntington, West Virginia where there is a 47% obesity rate and a poverty rate higher than the national average. But this city's financial issues are not nearly as bad as its health issues.
Shari Wiley, a nurse at St. Mary's Regional Heart Institute in Huntington said, “A lot of the patients we’re seeing are [having] heart attacks in their 30’s. They’re requiring open heart surgery in their 30’s. And we’re concerned because it used to be you wouldn't see heart patients come in until they were in their 50’s.” Huntington leads the nation in heart disease and diabetes and more than half of the town’s elderly have lost all their teeth. The average diet is filled with fried foods, salt, hydrogenated fats, animal fats, meat, and sugary sodas. There are more pizza places in the town of Huntington than health clubs in the state of W. Virginia.
Sounds like the natural foods chef may have met his match. Oliver’s challenge was to see if he could change the foods that were being served in schools, removing vending machines and getting the whole community to start cooking in the home. He worked with school lunch ladies and families to get everyone back in the kitchen. He taught them to prepare tasty, inexpensive meals using fresh ingredients – no take out, nothing pre-packaged.
He hopes to build a community center where residents can learn to cook inexpensively for their families while instilling the idea that healthy eating is not a luxury. Oliver says, “They thought that cooking a meal and feeding it to your family was for posh people. Some participants in the show had never even had a kitchen table. They ate takeout food on their floors.” He continues, “Every child should be taught to cook in school, not just talk about nutrition all day. Good food can be made in 15 minutes. This could be the first generation where the kids teach the parents".
A recent report states that, “daughters of overweight mothers are 10 times more likely to be obese by the time they reach the age of eight and sons of obese fathers are six times more likely to be overweight". More than 2 million children in the UK are estimated to be overweight or obese and many children under 12 already show signs of high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes and liver disease. In the U.S. the statistics are higher 1/3 of all children are considered overweight or obese and are experiencing the same health issues as adults.
Obesity is a potentially deadly condition and in the U.S. it is quickly overtaking smoking as the number one cause of death. Poor nutrition and physical inactivity account for more than 300,000 premature deaths in the U.S. each year and billions of dollars in extra health care costs. Obesity increases your risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, high blood pressure, and some cancers. If you are obese, losing even 5 to 10 percent of your weight can delay or prevent some of these diseases.
Stacy Matson is a health enthusiast from Southern California and regularly blogs on Celebrity Health for A Healthier World, as well as contributing to the Best of the Best.
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