Business can help tackle child obesity with its fresh perspectives

Children having a healthy breakfast to illustrate child obesity being tackled

With Britain set to become the diabetes and child obesity capital of Europe, schools – and the local authorities that control their food budgets – can use the experience and perspective of business to help tackle problems, says columnist Iqbal Wahhab

few years back I was a trustee of the Mayor’s Fund for London, a project led by business folk to look at new ways of solving the many problems facing the city’s youngsters. One day we visited a school in Islington, where a staggering 70 per cent of the children arrived unfed each morning, severely affecting their ability to learn.

We helped fund a programme where the school could pay for kids to start the day with something wholesome and nutritious. I felt slightly uneasy about this seemingly worthwhile endeavour and was tipped over the edge when a fellow visitor, a successful property developer, wrote the initiative a personal cheque for £10,000 on top of the £150,000 he had already committed from his company.

I aired my concerns aloud to the group and the school’s head teacher. “By paying for these breakfasts,” I asked, “aren’t we absolving these kids’ parents of their responsibility to feed their children? Who’s talking to the parents about their need to step up rather than asking businesspeople to pay up for a well-intentioned initiative?” I was lectured by a banker, who replied: “We don’t have the luxury of time to ask those questions. These kids need feeding.” For an example of the short-termism of financial investors, you need look no further.

There is clearly a need for businesses to use our fresh perspectives as much as our money to help create a generation of educated and healthy consumers and employees. You may remember Michelle Obama visiting an East End school primarily comprising British Bangladeshi girls. When I visited, to rather less media frenzy, an investment bank was running a session on personal finance. All the girls lived in council or rented accommodation. While about two-thirds of pupils go on to university, the notion of a mortgage was alien to them. The thrill of watching both the giving and receiving of this thought remains with me as a great example of where business can sensibly make a huge difference to the lives of schoolchildren.

Jamie Oliver has done a fantastic job of highlighting the appalling food served in schools. The creators of Leon produced a brilliant report for government after visiting educational establishments across the country. Did you know, for example, that parents spend £1bn a year on packed lunches for kids, yet only one per cent have the nutritional value needed to get through the day? Think crisps and chocolate bars and you won’t be far wrong. We need to break this cycle.

With Britain set to become the diabetes and child obesity capital of Europe, schools, and the local authorities that control their food budgets, can definitely use the experience and perspective of business to help tackle problems.

We have begun working with another East End school. One day I hosted some children for breakfast at Roast and took them round Borough Market to show them what real food looks like. Our chef Stuart has taught them how to make omelettes. Many schools are enabling kids to make their own breakfasts, surely a more sustainable intervention than random acts of kindness.

So while Stuart opens kids’ eyes to their ability to cook (healthily) for themselves, I struck up a conversation with the council about not seeing school catering budgets in isolation from other costs – those of perpetuating inequalities for the hard-off, creating a generation of malnourished children physically ill-equipped for a competitive place in society, dependent on fast food for their main meal of the day.

Set against a backdrop of increasing cuts to council budgets, businesses can step up and use our day-to-day internal rigour and apply that to domains in dire need of a new direction.

Iqbal Wahhab OBE is the founder of Roast. You can tweet him @IqbalWahhab

Child obesity: read more from Iqbal Wahhab

How do poor kids become obese?

About author

Iqbal Wahhab

Iqbal Wahhab

Iqbal Wahhab is a restaurateur who drives social impacts to the core of his businesses. The founder of The Cinnamon Club and Roast is chair or patron of a variety of social projects and is planning more restaurants this year.


  1. Thelma King Thiel 27 June, 2016 at 17:53 Reply

    It is distressing to see how we’ve failed to educate our youth about the dangers of obesity and many other food and lifestyle choices that impact their liver health.

    Many individuals grow up with the mentality that their bodies are invincible. In reality, their body and especially their liver, needs them to know how to protect it from liver related diseases through the use of alcohol, drugs, unhealthy food and lifestyle choices.

    Providing the rationale for changing behaviors is missing. Preventative education starting at an early age, is essential to bringing liver related diseases under control.

    Unfortunately, because the liver is a non-complaining organ most people are unaware of the liver and the miracles it performs 24/7. They are clueless about the devastating impact their unhealthy food and lifestyle choices can have on this life sustaining organ. Liver related illnesses including: obesity, fatty liver, diabetes, high cholesterol, atherosclerosis, strokes and even heart attacks are preventable. They all begin on day one with what we feed your children.

    The liver has zillions of liver cells serving as the body’s micro-chips, converting food into hundreds of essential body functions including producing energy, immune factors, digestive juices (bile), clotting factors, excretion of toxins (alcohol, drugs, pollutants), control of cholesterol and hundreds more. Liver cells are the employees in your personal chemical refinery.

    Making healthy food and lifestyle choices with the limited use of carbs, fats, sugar, alcohol, plus daily exercise will help keep liver cells healthy and your body in good shape. Healthcare providers should be encouraged to evaluate adolescents for potential liver problems and to educate them and their parents about ways to prevent further damage to their miraculous liver. Prevention begins at day one and parents must take responsibility for their children’s health to prevent chronic liver related illnesses that can impact their future health and life itself.

    For some reader friendly motivational messages regarding liver health visit Please share what you have learned with family, friends, and especially teachers. Prevention begins with you. Visit;

  2. Taylor Green 7 July, 2016 at 16:46 Reply

    “If it comes from a plant, eat it! If it is made in a plant, don’t eat it!” Children who make their own meals, and pick out their own healthy foods might continue doing so in the future. We have a program that is backed by science that can help kids stay healthy, and be more inclined to continue making healthy choices when it comes to what they eat! Let us know if there is anything we can do to help!

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