If the UK is to become healthier, cooking must be given more importance in the school curriculum, says Justin King

There has been a great deal of media coverage around nutrition of late, with NICE releasing a report this week recommending that food manufacturers cut salt and fat levels in an effort to improve public health.

There has also been an increased focus on nutrition labelling, as the EU seeks ways to standardise labelling across the Continent. Clear nutrition labelling can play a key part in improving public health, particularly in the short term, as it can help customers make healthier choices when they go shopping.

However, we are continually asking what we can do to ensure public health continues to improve in the long-term. As one of the country's leading food retailers, it is our responsibility to provide leadership in this area and we believe that while the information we put on our labels is important, we should pay an equal amount of attention to what is happening in schools.

Learning to cook healthily from a young age will naturally lead to healthier diets. By cooking for themselves, people can see exactly what goes into their meals, enabling them to moderate salt and fat levels.

We recently held a debate chaired by John Humphrys and attended by myself, our customer director Gwyn Burr, Jamie Oliver, as well as representatives from parents' groups, schools and government. The debate asked the question: "Will anyone cook in 2030?"

Prior to the event, we carried out research in which we asked children around the UK to give us some insight into what they are learning about food at school. We wanted to track how the average child's relationship with food begins, to give us a greater understanding of what needs to be done in the future. The results made interesting reading.

About 40% said they had never had a cookery lesson at school at all, while half said they had only cooked twice in the past year. When asked about cooking at home, 37% of kids said they never or rarely cook with their parents.

This is worrying, given the central role food plays in life. Social events, holidays, working days and family time are all very often structured around mealtimes.

Why, then, does food preparation not play a larger part in what our children learn at school? Particularly as there is a clear positive correlation between cooking at school and cooking at home. Of those asked, 62% of kids said they had cooked the same dish at home after a school cookery lesson, and 75% of the kids we spoke to said they would like to be able to cook a meal for their family.

How, then, do we turn this desire into reality? One of the biggest barriers is funding. Only 4% of pupils said their school provided the necessary ingredients and many said they found it difficult to afford basic store cupboard products.

We've decided to do our bit to help remedy this by investing £3m over the next three years in essential cooking equipment and ingredients for schools through our Active Kids scheme.

We started providing cooking equipment and ingredients through Active Kids three years ago and this additional funding will take the total amount invested to £6m.

However, obviously, we are not able to do this on our own, which is why we are calling on the new government to recognise the importance of young people cooking in tackling obesity.

Justin King is CEO of Sainsbury's.