Tower Hamlets Council tackles obesity with Jamie Oliver’s ‘Sugar Smart’ Initiative

The Sugar Smart initiative encourages schools to lower sugar content in food they provide. Picture: Rose Morelli

The mayor of Tower Hamlets has urged schools to adopt a healthier stance on sugar intake as part of school lunches in a new ‘Sugar Smart’ initiative.

“A balanced diet, being active and reducing our sugar intake makes all the difference to overall health and wellbeing,” said Mayor John Biggs at March’s Big Half marathon event.

“Childhood obesity is a huge problem for us, as nearly 27% of children in the borough are overweight or obese by the time they start secondary school.”

Created by TV chef Jamie Oliver, the Sugar Smart commitment encourages schools in the borough to lower sugar content in the food they provide.

 Oliver highlighted the need for school dinners’ sugar content reform in 2005 in his four-episode TV documentary, Jamie’s School Dinners. 

At Kidbrooke school in Greenwich, Oliver contended with a budget of 37 pence per child; he famously faced a backlash from both staff and children for banning the high-sugar food the students had become used to.

“Our harder-to-reach, poorer communities are suffering more,” Oliver said to The Telegraph in 2015. “We need to make fresh food more affordable than processed food.”

The endorsement follows concern over the increasing cases of child obesity and diabetes in the borough: as well as endorsing this initiative, the council has pledged to take several other steps in reducing the borough’s rate of obesity.

Plans were also announced to more closely regulate food provided at public events, review council-run cafes and canteens, and continue raising awareness about the sugar content of food and drink.

This initiative is one of many introduced by Tower Hamlets to tackle growing levels of obesity in the borough. The council most recently adopted their Sugar Reduction and Healthier Food charter in May 2017, following concern for the continual growth of cases in obesity and diabetes across the borough.

In 2016 the London Poverty Profile conducted a study into the growth of childhood obesity rates across boroughs. By cross-referencing medical data from 2011 and 2016, the study measured an increase in child obesity in nearly all boroughs.

According to the study, Tower Hamlets saw a 2% increase in children suffering from obesity, meaning that by 2016, more than one in four children in the borough were obese.

In the same year, the NHS rolled out its ‘Healthier You: Diabetes Prevention Programme’ initiative across areas of East London. Alongside Hackney and Newham, it identified Tower Hamlets as one of the 27 ‘at-risk’ areas across the country.

Diabetes rates among adults alongside children have become a growing concern in Tower Hamlets; a fact sheet produced by the council in 2014 illuminated the increased risk children face of developing the disease in the borough.

Increasing cases of type 2 diabetes in children have made headlines in recent years, with more than 500 child-oriented cases in the UK being logged in 2016, with an additional 600 cases in 2017.

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