02 February 2009

Jamie's meals add up to better results for pupils

Colchester Campus

When Jamie Oliver launched his "Feed Me Better" Campaign in Greenwich Schools back in 2004, some were sceptical about the impact it would have.

But research at Essex has shown that Jamie's efforts didn't just help pupils eat more healthily, it also resulted in them doing better at school in English and Science and in helping schools cut rates of absenteeism.

The study, carried out by Michele Belot from the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER), and Joathan James from the Department for Economics showed "substantial" positive effects on Key Stage 2 scores in both English and Sciences. The performance of 11-year-old pupils eating Oliver's meals improved by up to 8% in science and as much as 6% in English, while absenteeism due to ill-health fell by 15%.

Jamie Oliver's highly-publicised Channel 4 campaign to improve school meals introduced drastic changes in the meals offered to pupils in Greenwich, where he helped schools shift from low-budget processed meals high in saturated fat, salt and sugar, towards healthier options.

The study analysed the key stage 2 results of more than 13,000 children in Greenwich from 2002-7 to gauge the impact on performance of Olivers healthier meals. Pupils who sat exams in 2006-7 were on the new diet for at least 12 months, and after researchers had adjusted for an upward trend in pass rates, they found the number of pupils reaching levels four or five had risen by up to 8% in science, and 6% in English. There was also a small improvement in maths results..

Commenting on ISER's findings, Jamie Oliver said he felt the research vindicated his decision to banish fat-laden Turkey Twizzlers and replace them with nutrient-rich foods such as coconut, fish, and broccoli: 'The research results are fantastic as it's the first time a proper study has been done into the positive effects of the Feed Me Better campaign and it strongly suggests we were right all along. Even while doing the programme, we could see the benefits to children's health and teachers - we could see that asthmatic kids weren't having to use the school inhalers so often, for example. We could see that it made them calmer and therefore able to learn. It's just yet another piece of evidence that we need to move faster in terms of improving take-up of nutritious, tasty home cooked school meals across the country – training and supporting more dinner ladies, getting the kitchens and dining halls up to scratch, educating kids and parents about how easy a good diet can be.'

The study compared the Greenwich results with those of key stage 2 pupils in seven other London boroughs that did not have the celebrity chef's meals. Michele Belot, who allowed for pupils improving over time and for many other variables, was surprised by the speed of improvements and could find no explanation for the results other than the changes made by Jamie. 

For further information please contact the University of Essex communications office on 01206 874377 or e-mail comms@essex.ac.uk.

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