Around the country, legislators and elected officials have been cracking down on unhealthy foods and beverages in an effort to curb America’s obesity epidemic. In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg banned the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces at restaurants and concession stands. And in public school districts in several different cities, school boards have reduced the calorie intake of school lunches in an effort to make them more nutritious.

(Photo by J.L. Martello)

Now, Pittsburgh’s leaders are embarking on their own initiative to become a healthier city. Last week, world-renowned chef and “Food Revolution” Founder Jamie Oliver came to Pittsburgh for the One Young World Summit where he met with six local leaders who have committed to starting a “Food Revolution” throughout the city.

“While Pittsburgh has made significant progress with our local food movement, there is still work to be done,” said Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl in a press release announcing the initiative. “With Jamie as our inspiration, we are committed to working together to make Pittsburgh a healthier city—from ensuring that more of our schools have access to kitchen fresh food preparation, to empowering families to make better, real food choices.”

At a press conference on Oct. 18 announcing the initiative, commitments were made from representatives with Whole Foods Market, Eat’n Park, UPMC, Phipps Conservatory and Propel Schools. However, noticeably absent from the press conference was a representative from the Pittsburgh Public School District and any mention of how this initiative will help African-Americans in low-income neighborhoods who don’t even have access to a grocery store.

“If you don’t know what poverty or food ignorance looks like, it’s never very far away in your city,” said Oliver. “We have to recognize that as a state, government, country, we are responsible for the nutrition of our kids.”

So, what impact have these other national initiatives made? People in low-income communities are still turning to fast food as a source of nutrition due to its low cost. And urban public school districts suffering from funding cuts have been unable to give their students more nutritious food and instead are resorting to giving them less of the same unhealthy food they had before.

While Oliver agreed that many urban low-income communities are struggling in what he referred to as “urban desserts”—neighborhoods like the Hill District, he said some government initiatives like those in New York City, where there has been a reduction of childhood obesity, are having an impact on urban communities. He advised schools to investigate what they could do individually apart from district-wide reform.

“There’s many ways to provide good nutritious food to all people. It’s not rocket science,” Oliver said. “If you’re a single school, the thing to do is go independent. There are many great people doing things independently.”

The Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, which was founded by Oliver in 2010, is a United States charity that brings food education to schools, youth groups, businesses, and communities with hands-on training. In addition to his meetings with local leaders, Oliver also lead a session with One Young World delegates on Oct. 19.

“We all know that obesity and diet-related illness is killing more people than any war,” Oliver said. “We recently found out that obesity and diet-related illness is killing more people than famine.”

According to Oliver, for the first time in world history there are more than one billion people underweight and more than one billion people overweight or obese. Globally, more than 2.8 million people die every year as a result of obesity and diet-related illness.

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