American Society For Nutrition

The Food Revolution Will Not be Televised: “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution”.

The Food Revolution Will Not be Televised: “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution”.

Excellence in Nutrition Research and Practice
Posted on 06/04/2010 at 02:53:05 PM by Student Blogger
By: Caitlin L.

The latest reality show buzz is all about ABC's new show “Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution” where celebrity chef Jamie Oliver attempts to wake up the American school food system one cafeteria at a time.  The battle begins in Hungtington, West Virginia, a city the CDC has recently named the unhealthiest city in America.   I thoroughly enjoyed watching the first episode of the show, cringed when I saw some of the entrees the children were served, frowned at the unpronounceable ingredients listed on the boxes of the pre-packaged frozen foods, and cheered when the children were able to name and recognize a series of fresh vegetables and fruits after previously being unable to distinguish a potato from a tomato. 

However, I am not naïve.  I am well aware that this is television and it is going to take more than one British chef who is passionate about feeding our kids fresh ingredients to solve the problem of childhood obesity.   Consider the recent study published in Nature Neuroscience that found that those same types of palatable high fat foods enjoyed by Jamie's school children can actually lead to similar brain responses as seen in individuals addicted to cocaine and heroin.  Dopamine receptors that are down-regulated in those addicted to drugs were similarly lowered in rats given unlimited access to what the researchers referred to as a “cafeteria style diet”, or high fat foods.  As the rats ate more of the unhealthy food, an addiction-like response was triggered in their brains.  The rats then had to continue to eat more of the unhealthy food to maintain pleasurable feelings and as a result became obese.  

And yet with this knowledge, along with all the other existing research that has told us that obesity is a complex and multifaceted issue, critics of Oliver's show still seem vindicated by the results of a study conducted by West Virginia University's  Health Research Center.  Researchers surveyed the recipients of Jamie's food and found that almost 8 in 10 children did not like the new food options, and many stopped buying the lunches altogether.  One of the stipulations that the school gave Jamie is that the children had to “accept” the new food items, and according to this report, the children were “very unhappy” with the new food. 

Are you surprised?  Children who are used to eating pizza, chicken nuggets, and french fries aren't ready to trade in the fried goods for baked chicken, salad, and grilled vegetables.   Further, if a child's brain has potentially been rewired to compulsively reach for high fat foods, then how can we expect him to make this change on his own?  If nothing but high fat, cheesy, sweet, white flour food items that are engineered to please the taste buds  are eaten both at home and at school how can we expect a child to make the healthy choice on his or her own?  While I love Jamie Oliver for his drive and message, he's got an uphill battle.  It's going to take more than putting a few healthy options on the cafeteria line to make changes to a child's diet.  But it's a good start.  According to the New York Times seven million people tuned into watch the show.  While this revolution may not be televised, maybe this show will spark a small revolution of awareness and a much needed conversation in 7 million homes. 

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution in West Virginia: Initial Evaluation of School-based Meal Changes.  Retrieved from :

Johnson, P, & Kenny, P. (2010). Dopamine d2 receptors in addiction-like reward dysfunction and compulsive eating in obese rats. Nature Neuroscience, Retrieved from doi: 10.1038/nn.2519