In 2004 UK TV chef Jamie Oliver ran an experiment at a school in Greenwich, London for an upcoming show of his,Â Jamie’s School Dinners. By various means Oliver attempted to improve the eating habits of the school’s students and, by-and-large, succeeded.Â Tracking his progress–and that of the children–were two Oxford economists, Michele Belot and Jonathan James.
The two noted how Oliver’s campaign had inadvertently created “a near-perfect experiment” and so began following the academic achievements of the children with much superior eating habits than their peers and the school as a whole.
Five years later the experiment started to show results: specifically, thatÂ the eating habits of school children has a profound positive effect on their education.
Their answer â€“ a provisional one, since they are still refining the research â€“ is that feeding primary school kids less fat, sugar and salt, and more fruit and vegetables, has a surprisingly large effect. Authorised absences, the best available proxy for illness, fell by 15 per cent in Greenwich, relative to schools in similar London boroughs. And relative to other boroughs, the proportion of children reaching Level Four* in English rose by four and a half percentage points (more than six per cent), while the proportion of children achieving Level Five* in Science rose by six points, or almost 20 per cent.