x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Top chef calls for lessons in healthy eating to be put into the mix at UAE schools

The star of the Great British Menu said a lack of education about food in schools was leading to health conditions such as obesity.

Dubai // A top chef has criticised the lack of healthy eating classes in schools.

Prue Leith, the star of the TV show Great British Menu said a lack of education was the culprit for bad eating habits among the younger generation, which was leading to obesity and hypertension.

She also raised concerns about the celebrity chef culture, saying it did nothing to promote healthy eating as people only watched the shows for entertainment.

Ms Leith was in Dubai for the Festival of Literature and was invited to visit the Gems World Academy because of her work as the former chairwoman of the School Food Trust in the UK.

“My complaint is that the students do not do any food. It must be one of the best equipped schools I have ever been to and the students were fantastic, really bright and on the ball,” said Ms Leith, who has more than 50 years’ experience in professional kitchens.

“The teachers were wonderful and the place was extraordinary with a planetarium, Olympic-sized swimming pool and a 3D printer – but they did not have any education about food.

“I had a go at them and they promised to think about it.”

The chef has long been a champion of increasing awareness about healthy eating in schools.

Ms Leith headed the board of the School Food Trust from 2006 to 2010 because of her determination to get children to like food that was good for them.

Jamie Oliver, another top British chef, campaigned separately on the same issue, and because of these efforts the amount of funding for school meals was increased, school cooks were taught how to prepare healthy food and 5,000 after-school clubs called Let’s Get Cooking were established.

While many of the problems she faced in the UK, such as underfunding for school dinners, are less of an issue in the UAE, Ms Leith said a lack of education was the most significant problem.

“We got money into dining rooms and kitchens and set up a system of training school cooks to learn how to cook [in the UK],” she said.

“A lot of them were young women who just opened up Turkey Twizzlers and heated them up. We had to re-educate them and got food back on the curriculum. Now every child in the UK learns to cook at school on at least one day a week for one year, which is enough to give them the basics.”

She said the same principle could be integrated into UAE schools following the international baccalaureate system as it has a food and technology module.

Figures published in a UAE study last year showed one in three children here between the ages of six and 19 were overweight or obese, putting them at risk of diabetes and hypertension.

Problems were especially acute in children aged 11 to 15, of whom 40 per cent were overweight or obese, and 16 to 19, of whom 39 per cent were overweight.

Last month Unicef launched the School Health Education Project in Abu Dhabi in a bid to tackle obesity among youngsters aged 12 to 15.

The scheme involves training school nurses to give children advice on healthy living.

Ms Leith said a celebrity chef culture failed to educate audiences about healthy eating because viewers only watched the shows for entertainment.

“It is heartbreaking that we see these chefs doing beautiful things with wonderful ingredients while they are sitting on sofas stuffing their faces with pizza, Pot Noodles and chocolate bars,” she added.

“It is the wrong thing for children to aspire to. Some of these TV chefs do not have any restaurants at all.

“No one cooks from celebrity chefs at all because it has nothing to do with cooking, it is just entertainment.”

Gems Education did not respond to requests for comment.

newsdesk@thenational.ae