Technology & Science

British government targets obesity

The British government has launched a wide-ranging campaign against obesity, including requiring all students to learn to cook.

'The most significant public and personal health challenge,' minister says

The British government has launched a wide-ranging campaign against obesity, including requiring all students to learn to cook.

By September 2011, every 11- to 14-year-old will have to take cooking lessons so they can learn to make cheap and healthy dishes, the government said in a release Tuesday.

"It is at the heart of tackling obesity," said Ed Balls, the children, schools and families minister. "It must be a thing of the past that young people — especially boys — can leave secondary school never having had a basic cooking lesson."

The cooking requirement is part of a broader campaign the government launched Wednesday that aims to make Britons healthier through changes in physical activity, diet and health care.

"Tackling obesity is the most significant public and personal health challenge facing our society," Health Minister Alan Johnson said in a release.

The problem is simple —  "we eat too much and we do too little exercise" — but the solution requires changes in food choices, the physical environment and how children spend their time.

The government plans include:

  • Providing more money for weight management services, so users can achieve "real and sustained weight loss."
  • Helping parents manage children's sedentary activities like surfing the net or watching TV.
  • Ads to encourage parents to change their children's diet and increase  physical activity.
  • Promoting local planning powers to limit the spread of fast-food outlets close to schools or parks.
  • Creating incentives for workers, the health service and employers to improve health.
  • Studying personal financial incentives for healthy living.
  • Promoting breastfeeding.

"It is not the government's role to hector or lecture people, but we do have a duty to support them in leading healthier lifestyles," Johnson said.

Nearly a quarter of British adults are obese, and among children, 18 per cent of two- to 15-year-olds are obese and another 14 per cent are overweight.

The government is committing nearly $750 million to the program. The school cooking classes will cost about $5 million.