PM's Eton Mess! Jamie Oliver leads Downing Street protests over governments obesity u-turn

20 May 2022, 15:49

By Liam Gould

Chef Jamie Oliver accused the government of using the cost of living crisis 'as an excuse' to delay tackling obesity as he led a protest outside Downing Street.

The celebrity chef was joined by around 200 people as he held an Eton Mess dessert above his head in a dig at the PM's school and his U-turn.

The 46-year-old said the Eton Mess was “symbolic of the mess” ministers have created by postponing England’s National Obesity Strategy by one year.

The National Obesity Strategy is aimed to decrease the consumption of food high in fat, sugar and salt. Measures include banning 'buy-one-get-one-free' deals (BOGOF) on junk food, and television ads for it before 9pm.

It was announced last week that the plan had been put on hold for a year while government officials dealt with the cost-of-living crisis.

Jamie Oliver, who was seen holding the strawberry-based dish above his head while he addressed protesters, said: “To use cost of living as an excuse is wrong, it’s completely unfair.

“The Eton Mess is symbolic of the mess that we’ve got ourselves into. It’s very much like the U-turn on the childhood obesity strategy that Boris Johnson’s own Government designed and passed.

“So he’s doing a U-turn on his own laws at a time when child health has never been more compromised since records began.

“It is absolutely urgent and the excuses that he’s used for not doing it are absolutely not true.”

Read More: Jamie Oliver’s Eton Mess protest on Downing St as he slams Boris for child obesity u-turn

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Jamie Oliver was seen defiantly holding the strawberry-based dish above his head while he addressed protesters. Picture: Alamy

But, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that while tackling obesity is of "vital importance", the deals in place would help families put food on the table.

"There are lots of things you've got to focus on, including diet, eating less, well eating less is the most important thing," he said.

"But there are some things at the moment where we think they make very little difference to obesity and they can affect people's weekly outgoings, people's budgets.

"And at this particular time, if people can save on their food bills with some offers then I think we have just got to be flexible while we continue to tackle obesity."

The protest has received criticism by some who say it comes at a time when families are struggling to afford meals.

When asked about the backlash, Oliver said: “This whole strategy, designed by the Government and has been researched by the Government, proves that this particular mechanic (two for one deals on junk food) makes people spend more of their income and waste more.

“And actually if you look at what Tesco said today, they are going to continue on discounts (but on) healthier and sustainable (food).

“They’ve set the tone and I’m sure others will follow. We want to put child health first, the strategy was looking world class and now it doesn’t.

“It’s our job to put it all back together again and make sure that we can build a better future for our kids.”

Read More: Many in England 'unaware' they are overweight or obese, survey suggests

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The 46-year-old said the Eton Mess was “symbolic of the mess” ministers have created by postponing England’s National Obesity Strategy by one year. Picture: Alamy

Tesco and Sainsbury's - two major supermarket retailers - have pledged to go ahead with the ban on junk food deals from October 2022, when the government's initial plans were meant to come into place.

The protest has also received backing from other celebrity chefs. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall said on his social media: "I’ve seen quite a few Eton Messes and this has to be up there with the worst.

"If you’re in London today, help Jamie Oliver [and] send this important message to our PM. Boris Johnson - sort this out and put the health of our children and our nation first."

The plans have also been backed by a number of health professionals. Professor Matthew Ashton, director of public health at Food Active, said: “Advertising unhealthy food and drinks on TV and online platforms is not helpful for our children and we need the government’s help to put an end to this.

“If the Government is truly serious about reducing childhood obesity and levelling up inequalities in health, we ask that they don’t turn their back on the national obesity strategy now.”

Read More: In full: Jamie Oliver's open letter to Boris Johnson on child obesity

Read More: 'Don't ask for pay rises' Bank boss warns despite 'apocalyptic' food price rises

Jamie previously told James O’Brien on LBC that he thinks the PM “hasn’t got the backbone and spine to complete anything" after the widely criticised U-turn.

“I want people to come down at 12.30pm on Friday if he doesn’t row back, and hold up an Eton mess. He’s just got to do what his own government have already worked out," Jamie said.

The top celeb chef and healthy food campaigner also signed an open letter to the PM accusing him of failing to keep his promises on promoting children's health.

The letter states: "Today you have thrown away your right to claim England is world-leading in its policies to promote children’s health.

"You have told us time and again that your government would deliver on its strategy, including ending junk food advertising to children, only to u-turn after the law has already passed.

"At a time when child health has worsened over the pandemic so that now 1 in 4 children leave primary school with obesity, and people who live in lower income areas are twice as likely to be affected, you are delaying policies that are both vital for levelling up and popular with 74% of the public.

"It is not too late to reconsider and protect the next generation from diet-related disease. Please don’t u-turn on child health."

Other signatories to the letter include leading health figures, food campaigners and senior figures from food charities.

Read More: 'We have a national problem with addiction': GP on shocking realities of UK obesity

It comes after the Bank of England governor issued an "apocalyptic" warning about rising food prices.

In his evidence to the Commons Treasury Committee on Monday, Governor Andrew Bailey stressed that the war in Ukraine has resulted in an unpredictable jump in inflation, highlighting that there is still a "major worry" over further rises in food prices due to the conflict."

It is a major worry for this country and a major worry for the developing world," Mr Bailey said.

"Sorry for being apocalyptic but that is a major concern."

He said the main driver of inflation is "the very big, real income shock which is coming from outside forces and, particularly, energy prices and global goods prices".

He warned "that will have an impact on domestic demand and it will dampen activity, and I'm afraid it looks like it will increase unemployment".

Oliver famously got Turkey Twizzlers banned from schools across the country in 2005 following his campaign to get schools to serve healthier food.