Opinion: Government could learn from Naked Chef

Jamie Oliver may want to lower his profile, but anonymity seems a distant possibility at present. In fact, here is yet another column about Channel 4 series Jamie's School Dinners and the scourge of Turkey Twizzlers.

The programme wasn't actually the prompt for this week's rant, but the relatively low key unveiling of the Department of Health's delivery plan for the Public Health White Paper. Health Secretary John Reid unveiled the publication last week at the launch of a Business in the Community scheme that aims to encourage children to exercise. All very laudable, except I am puzzled by the decision to link the announcement to the issue of exercise rather than nutrition.

Don't get me wrong, exercise is crucial to reducing child obesity, but purely in PR terms, it is obvious that, courtesy of the Naked Chef's campaigning skills, standards of school dinners are the media flavour of the month.

So it's hardly surprising that, despite the involvement of England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, coverage was muted.

Perhaps the DoH felt it was on safer ground in the sports arena. Considerable media space has been devoted to plans to ensure that school children are involved in more quality sport and PE, while the issue of nutrition has been summed up with a one-liner about the plans to implement a school meal standard.

The nature of this standard remains rather vague. Last month, Education Secretary Ruth Kelly talked about minimum health specifications for processed foods, which fall short of Oliver's lobbying campaign for a complete ban on junk food in schools and greater government investment in school meals.

Note the use of terminology here. Oliver may employ more colourful language - the 'scrotum-burger' is likely to be a candidate for the Oxford English Dictionary - than the average lobbyist, but the chef has put together a multi-channelled public affairs campaign, complete with clear manifesto, grassroots mobilisation, interactive website, proforma lobbying materials, third-party endorsement and a high-level media relations campaign.

Government plans to improve the health of Britain's children rely to a great extent on convincing parents - including those who have denounced Oliver's nutritional dinners as crap and smuggled McDonald's cartons into playgrounds. Oliver could teach the Government a thing or two - and not just about cooking.

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