Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution: A Public Health Perspective

I finally got a chance to watch the first two episodes of Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution” filmed in Huntington, West Virginia.  Much hype has been hitting the newswire; there’s also been interesting discussion on my Hunger and Environmental Nutrition listserv regarding what it truly means to create a ‘revolution’ or lasting change in behavior.  With the disheartening study results from West Virginia University that evaluate the town’s  progress post-Jamie Oliver, like-minded dietitians and public health gurus have been rallying behind the importance of slow change from the ground-up.  My post-graduate work in public health is suddenly alive and kicking!   Allow me to share…

At the heart of any successful public health initiative is a comprehensive needs assessment.  The demographic and socio-economic characteristics of the town and its residents are researched to understand underlying determinants of behavior.  These are critical to consider when planning an intervention.  Oops, I said planning.  I’m not certain Jamie Oliver planned at all —  He just showed up one day, on the radio, quoting statistics and demanding a ‘revolution.’  It’s human nature to be resistant to an outsider telling you that you must change; and then making the changes for you, rather than involving you in the process.  Food is too personal.

Teachers, parents, school administrators and children are key components to creating sustainable change in a school and its community.  Parents are role models and the gate-keepers of the food at home; teachers are also role models, key advocates and educators;  and school administrators set goals and standards, working closely with school food service.  All are vital to encourage healthy behaviors in children and I couldn’t help but wonder where the open-dialogue was.  What changes are realistic to each of these stakeholders?  What knowledge does each group have on food and nutrition?    What is their motivation level and how do they interact with the other stakeholders?

Unfortunately, Jamie neglected to include the people of Huntington in the original plan.  Many people know that highly processed, fast food is bad for us, but the reasons for engaging  in these behaviors run deep and need to reasonably evaluated.

There were a few bright spots.  Jamie went into a classroom dressed in a pea costume to engage students and teachers.  The students did not know that French fries come from a potato, nor did they recognize an eggplant and a myriad of other fruits and vegetables.  One teacher took the initiative to create a lesson about produce with encouraging results.  Education, involvement and reinforcement are so important when it comes to children.  The sticker, “I tried something new today,” provided to students in the lunch room was, indeed, brilliant.  It made eating nutritious food fun and rewarding.

But these types of rewards need to be consistent; as does the trial of new foods.  It takes a child at least 10 tries to accept a new food; it’s no wonder the students chose the pizza over the chicken.  Small changes implemented slowly over time is proven to sustain change.  Better yet: involve the children in the process of preparing, growing or cooking the food.  There’s a revolution.

So I will step off my public health nutrition soap box.  It is reality TV, after all, and Jamie Oliver should certainly be commended for his unwavering commitment to health and childhood obesity prevention.  It’s an issue that deserves as much attention as it can get.

I just can’t help but wonder if this isn’t just an ABC ploy to acquire the next pool of applicants for the next season of “Biggest Loser.”

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2 responses to “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution: A Public Health Perspective

  1. I really enjoyed this show, but I totally agree with you about it being a reality TV show. For my grant writing class in Grad school (MSW) we attempted to write a grant for inner city kids to go to a farm program in ME to learn where their food comes from. You make a lot of great points and hopefully this show is not just an attempt to boost ratings by exploiting families, but I do realize that TV does things just to get ratings!

    • Hi Amy – thanks for stopping by! Jamie definitely deserves praise for all the work he’s done to combat childhood obesity but I think the show also offers some valuable insight into best practices for community-driven public health efforts. Hope you got the grant – sounds like a great program!

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