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Steven Gerrard and Jamie Oliver urge Government to tackle obesity

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England footballer Steven Gerrard has teamed up with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver to call on the Government to tackle the obesity crisis through cookery education in schools. 

The school meals champion and the Liverpool midfielder have joined forces with leading figures in health and education as signatories to a letter to the prime minister, suggesting changes to the introduction of a minimum 24 hours' practical cooking skills and food education for all pupils aged four to 14. The letter says the "pride" of hosting the Olympic Games has been "tainted by the shameful fact that Britain is the fattest nation in Europe".

Professor David Haslam, chair of the National Obesity Forum, who also signed the letter, said: "The 2012 Olympics provide a unique opportunity to improve the nation's health and reduce the burden of obesity."However, sitting in front of the television, cheering our elite athletes on, while eating crisps and chocolates, drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is entirely counter-productive."

Using the National Curriculum to teach children how to prepare nutritious meals for themselves and their families would be an important step in tackling the rising obesity epidemic, the campaigners argue.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 take-away foods, the letter adds.

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 are among the signatories.

As well as urging the introduction of compulsory cookery classes, they highlight the need for more sporting role models to promote the benefits of a healthy lifestyle to children.They write: "As a group of charities and leading professionals in the field of medicine, food, sport, education and cookery, we firmly believe that the impact of obesity on our health is a very serious problem."

Oliver has been a campaigner for healthier school food since 2005, while Gerrard is ambassador for the Get Up, Get Moving programme designed to increase awareness of physical activity and healthy eating.

Dr Gerada said she had had a number of patients who have never, ever cooked a meal, adding: "The closest they may ever get to cooking a meal is putting something in the microwave.

"I think it is important that we put cookery back into schools so that at least children can see how much sugar goes into an average cake or how much fat goes into a pastry so they can make choices about what they're going to eat."

Prof Stephenson said: "The UK now has the highest rate of obesity in Europe, with one in three children overweight or obese by the age of nine. "We need to act now but we will not win this fight alone. Parents, schools, healthcare professionals and the Government must take a united approach in order to combat this obesity crisis."

The Department for Education said it was committed to tackling obesity and a review of the NationalCurriculum was currently under way. "We know that a healthy attitude towards food, developed early, is critical to the health, well-being and good educational attainment of young people," it said. "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."