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Gerrard backs cookery teaching push

Jamie Oliver and Steven Gerrard have joined forces with leading figures in health and education to ask the Government to fight obesity through cookery teaching in schools.

In a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, they call on him to introduce a minimum 24 hours' practical cooking skills and food education for all pupils aged four to 14.

The group laments that the "pride" of hosting the Olympic Games has been "tainted by the shameful fact that Britain is officially the fattest nation in Europe". But the Games provide a good opportunity to change things for the better, they suggest.

Teaching children through the National Curriculum how to prepare nutritious meals for themselves and their families would be an important step in tackling the rising obesity epidemic, the letter argues.

Without these skills, people are less likely to exercise meaningful control over their diet and food intake, and tend to rely on pre-prepared or takeaway foods, the campaigners add.

Celebrity chef Oliver - who has previously campaigned for healthier school dinners - and Liverpool and England footballer Gerrard teamed up with Dr Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, and Professor Terence Stephenson, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, to highlight the issue.

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, Professor David Haslam, chair of the National Obesity Forum, and Steve Iredale, president of the National Association of Head Teachers, also signed the letter, as well as academics and charity leaders.

Besides the call for compulsory cookery lessons, they note the need for more sporting role models to promote the benefits of a healthy lifestyle to children.

A Department for Education spokesman said: "We know that a healthy attitude towards food, developed early, is critical to the health, well-being and good educational attainment of young people.

"That's why we've asked the School Food Trust to use their expertise and draw up early years nutritional guidance and why maintained schools must abide by the national minimum standards for nutrition. We are currently reviewing the National Curriculum and will make further announcement on the review in due course."