Jamie Oliver Takes On a £27 Billion Problem

Jamie Oliver’s nemesis is junk food.
Jamie Oliver with EAT CEO Sandro Demaio at the 2018 Business for Peace Summit in Oslo
EAT's CEO Sandro_Demaio together with Jamie Oliver at the 2018 Business for Peace Summit in Oslo

In fact, just in his home country, the UK, it’s a £27 billion problem. That’s what poor diets cost the economy each year, according to the McKinsey Global Institute. By contrast, the National Health Service spends only £5.1 billion a year on combating obesity and overweight.

In a recent conversation with EAT Chief Executive Officer Alessandro Demaio, a former World Health Organization medical officer, the chef and food activist outlined the challenges – and successes – in his mission to introduce healthier diets in the UK and across the world.

In the UK, children in disadvantaged communities are two to three times more likely to be overweight or obese. That carries through into adulthood, resulting in a less productive life and ultimately an earlier mortality, according to Oliver.

“You can see it in education, you can see it in their annual paycheck and you can see it in the amount of fast-food takeaways – it all corresponds,” Oliver told EAT’s Demaio at the 2018 2018 Business for Peace Summit held earlier this month in Oslo, Norway.

Jamie Oliver at the 2018 Business for Peace Summit in Oslo

Through initiatives such as the Food Revolution, the Child Obesity Action Plan and #AdEnough campaign to ban junk food advertising to children, Oliver has engaged millions, changed policy and challenged how business gets done. He’s committed to cutting childhood obesity in half in the UK by 2030.

“As we try to feed another 5 or 6 billion people over the next 50 years we have to make some really clear, concise, clever, morally-balanced decisions about how we produce food, how we nourish communities,” Oliver said.

Beyond the hard economic costs, the stakes of Oliver’s efforts can’t be underscored enough. Studies show that children who are malnourished are 19 percent less likely to be able to read and 12 percent less likely to write simple sentences by the age of eight.

While the facts are grim, Oliver made it clear that all of us have the power to make change happen.

“Every day you go shopping you can make a vote,’’ he said. “If you don’t like intensive farming, do what I do and eat vegetarian four days a week.”

For Oliver, it’s also vital to work with businesses, both large and small, to enact change in an industry that’s both the biggest employer and biggest emitter of greenhouse gases globally.

“Diet-related disease is the mother epidemic; it’s also the mother of all business – the food industry is the biggest on the planet” he said. So “getting businesses to be better is the future.”

Jamie Oliver in a conversation with EAT CEO Sandro Demaio at the 2018 Business for Peace Summit in Oslo

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