Battle of West Virginia vs. U.K. Being Weighed Across U.S.

Apr 12, 2010
Bernice Hurst

By Bernice Hurst, Contributing Editor, RetailWire

Viewers not yet in agreement with chef Jamie Oliver’s efforts on ABC’s Food
TV program may be interested to know about improvements
to children’s behavior, academic achievements and school attendance
that coincide with the campaign he launched in the U.K. A two-year study
has shown higher test scores in English and science as well as less absenteeism,
which is attributed to improved health.

But initial reactions to the American version in which the chef attempted
to work his healthy-eating magic at Huntington High School in West Virginia
are not entirely favorable.

Reviewing the program, described, “The
wrath and intransigence of the school cafeteria cooks” encountered by “the
cheeky British chef,” who was shocked to discover U.S. schools classifying
French fries as vegetables. Mr. Oliver’s efforts included a repetition of a
demonstration done in British schools, dissecting a chicken and using the scraps
to produce breaded nuggets. Like their counterparts, the children were repulsed
by the raw mixture. Unlike their U.K. counterparts, the American kids opted
to eat the fried end product.

Some of the British parents were so incensed by
being lectured that they pushed burgers and fries through the school gates
at lunchtime. So the two groups are not all that dissimilar. It isn’t,
as The New York Times said, “a
culture clash between an abrasive British interloper and a city of stolid,
overweight Americans.”

There were other similarities: Mr. Oliver was mocked by media as well as parents;
he also had to work hard persuading the cooks to try his suggestions and encouraging
the youngsters to at least taste the results. It was an uphill struggle but
he is still eager to do it all again in what the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention described as “the nation’s unhealthiest town.”

the program is just being aired now, some months have passed since it was made
and the school’s principal, Patrick O’Neal, says “three
to four months is not enough time to see if this program is going to be successful,” according

“I think it’s a spark to start a bigger fire,” he added. “I
don’t see it as a failure, and I don’t see it as a true success yet. It’s going
to take some time for it to ignite nationwide.”

With viewing figures rising to a whopping 7.5 million after Mr. Oliver’s chat
with Oprah Winfrey, there are signs that people are hearing his message. The
question is whether they will begin to listen as well.

Discussion Questions: Will America’s kids be responsive to chef Jamie Oliver’s
views and recommendations? What chance do you give a TV show about healthy
eating habits od becoming a success in the U.S.?
[Author’s commentary] West Virginia University researchers agreed that
it may take time but were disappointed that fewer children are now buying lunch.
Hopefully, all involved will be heartened by results of a two-year study in
the UK covered by The Times and The Guardian showing that “scores
in national curriculum tests at 11 rose in English and science at schools where
Oliver’s menus were introduced.” In addition, there are indications
that a “relative fall in absenteeism” shows improvements to children’s
health “which could have long-lasting consequences for the children involved
not only through improvement in educational achievements, but also in terms
of their life expectancy, quality of life and productive capacity on the labour

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11 Comments on "Battle of West Virginia vs. U.K. Being Weighed Across U.S."

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David Livingston
11 years 29 days ago

Probably not. Jamie is well meaning and he sends a good message. But most people are addicted to good tasting fatty foods. It would be nice if we could all drop what we are doing, pull out our wok and cook up some organic vegetables. And even nicer if someone would do it for us. But we are not making our living on a reality show. Lifestyles will not start to change unless we increase discrimination against moderately overweight people like we did smokers.

Max Goldberg
11 years 29 days ago

We can only hope that Mr. Oliver’s efforts succeed. Obesity is a ticking time bomb in the US. Mr. Oliver may be cheeky, but his message is sound and the results from the UK reinforce his efforts.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
11 years 29 days ago
It is not surprising that parents are not overwhelmingly supportive of Jamie Oliver’s efforts. I view the initial response as one of denial. Parents need to step up and support this or similar efforts to help our children at risk. The risks have been well documented. In research that I co-authored on school day eating behavior, almost 70% of parents or guardians know very little about their adolescent’s eating habits during the school day. In this same survey, students reported eating energy dense foods on almost twice as many occasions (27.13) as nutrient dense foods (14.82) during the previous five school days. Source: “Adolescents and Food Attitudes and Behaviors during the School Day: Implications for Food Marketers,” Journal of Food Products Marketing, Vol. 14, Issue 1, 2008 (with Dr. Thomas McDuffie). The high calorie American diet and lethargic lifestyle is reflected in the percentage of overweight and obese adolescents. Given the central role of schools in providing food and nutrition education, the food choices of youths during the school day should be well known. Unfortunately,… Read more »
Cathy Hotka
11 years 29 days ago

The most shocking part of the Jamie Oliver shows aired so far is the discovery that some kids can’t identify a single vegetable.

There’s information about nutrition everywhere you look. Parents have a choice: to empower their children to make appropriate food choices and learn to cook, or condemn them to shortened sedentary lives marked by obesity.

Charles P. Walsh
Charles P. Walsh
11 years 29 days ago
I have been an avid watcher of Jamie’s show and was genuinely shocked to see the type of food that school cafeterias are serving. I was even more shocked to see middle aged kitchen food preparers who were both indignant and desensitized to the unhealthy food fare that they were serving the school children. After some thought, I realized that we, as Americans, have enabled this unhealthy eating lifestyle through our consumer driven, two income, sedentary lifestyles. We have become too willing to buy all of our mills “in a box or a bag” whether from the grocery store or the local fast food sit down or drive through dining establishments. Add to that our rapid disintegration of the “family” at home, sit down, home prepared mealtime and it becomes much more clear to me that it isn’t going to be the children who are the ones that need to be won over. It will be all of us adults who are the real enablers. Jamie Oliver is right to target the school programs and… Read more »
Doron Levy
Doron Levy
11 years 29 days ago

Can you go healthy on a school’s budget? That’s what I’m wondering. BLTs, fries and gravy and buttered corn are real cheap to make and sell (of course that was the menu back when I was in high school, things a ‘much’ better now). I just wonder if Jamie Oliver is a big enough brand for kids to recognize. Maybe Tony Hawk eating a turkey wrap with no mayo or even Ronald McDonald in a Fila track suit (which I know I mentioned yesterday). The marketing spoils will go to the ones with the deepest war chest. And I think we all what team that is.

Anne Bieler
Anne Bieler
11 years 29 days ago

This is just the first skirmish–so many factors work against this. Bottom line, kids did not “decide” to become overweight, it is a lifestyle that is reinforced by school lunch budgets, lack of healthier choices, little understanding of nutrition, media messaging, and more. Changing menus and attitudes will require massive rethinking as a community, as school systems, as a country–and true inspiration to make healthier choices taste and look so much better in the cafeteria lines!

Jamie has opened a door and taken first steps–it will take many of us to move forward in the battle against obesity.

Victor Willis
Victor Willis
11 years 29 days ago
I applaud Jamie’s efforts and hope it elevates the subject up the agenda of the present administration. One of the most shocking parts of the show was when kids were presented with a variety of vegetables and couldn’t name one of them. How sad is that? In the absence of any seismic changes to overhaul the NSLP/USDA school lunch budget and program, we should welcome ideas from anyone on how to improve the nutrition of our kids. Clearly, nothing currently is working. Jamie is already successful and rich. I see this as altruistic, not self serving or pandering to special interests. How refreshing. The future is stark if we don’t address this now and the figures make for depressing reading–31 million children eat lunch at school; one or more children in 500,000 families do not get enough to eat; one in three children are obese or overweight; type 2 diabetes is now found in children as young as eight! Anyone remember the recent collapse of the financial industry and the lack of government oversight? An… Read more »
Lee Peterson
11 years 29 days ago

You know the old expression about leading edge and bleeding edge–well, Jamie’s probably going to be bleeding after this. But a start is a start. Right now, this show is THE topic amongst young parents in our office. There’s a complete buzz about it that’s really spreading. That little sample alone gives me some hope that this will be the beginning of a larger trend; eradicating poor food choices for kids and taking the whole “better for you” food up a notch. All the best to him and the kids!

Craig Sundstrom
11 years 29 days ago

I can’t see anything positive coming out of a “reality show” and I’d be dubious of any study relating to same; as for demonizing school lunches, though they well may be part of the problem, they’re a small part (accounting for maybe 200 of the 700-1000 meals a person would eat in a year). I go along with David, et al, in that you won’t see mass changes in dietary habits until they’re forced on people…though I’m curious how he’ll work this along with his–as he puts it–sacred duty of every retailer to pry as much money out of a customer’s wallet as possible.

John Crossman
John Crossman
11 years 16 days ago

Our country needs all the help we can get with this issue. Let’s bring in cooks and fitness experts from all over the world and promote counseling for those who are food addicts. If we want healthcare for everyone, let’s encourage everyone to take care of themselves.


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