Jamie Oliver lunchroom spat with UK health secretary

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Jamie Oliver, the British celebrity chef whose recent U.S. reality show, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, initially had a mixed reception among the people whose school lunch program he was attempting to overhaul, is now getting some flack from the health minister back on his home turf. His School Dinners initiative to get junk food out of cafeterias and promote better nutrition for school children has ultimately driven more children away from school food, according to comments made by U.K. Health Secretary Andrew Lansley at a conference of the British Medical Association yesterday.

Oliver’s program to improve nutritional value of school lunches ultimately deterred children from eating school food, Lansley said, and subsequent school efforts to regulate brown bag lunches only prompted parents to give their kids money to make their own food choices — which often meant picking up chips and other junk food at shops outside of school, the Telegraph reports. Lansley put it this way:

“If we are constantly lecturing people and trying to tell them what to do, we will actually find that we undermine and are counterproductive in the results that we achieve.”

Despite having the best of intentions, Lansley suggests that Oliver’s approach ultimately discouraged children from eating more nutritious meals. He said that an evidence-based approach would likely be more effective at promoting healthier habits.

Stung by the comments, Oliver issued a statement making a few critical remarks himself:

“I’m not encouraged by the news that the new health minister has summed up eight years of hard work in a few lines for the sake of a headline… ‘To say School Dinners hasn’t worked is not just inaccurate but is also an insult to the hard work of hundreds of thousands of dinner ladies, teachers, headteachers and parent helpers who strive to feed schoolkids a nutritious, hot meal for 190 days of the year.”

Oliver’s public spat comes as the U.S. is in the midst of a similar struggle to revamp school lunches which have been criticized for contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic.

Read the full Telegraph story here. Watch a BBC video here.