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EU-wide dietary guidelines not feasible, says EFSA

By staff reporter , 20-Aug-2008
Last updated on 20-Aug-2008 at 10:23 GMT

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has launched a public consultation on its draft opinion on food-based dietary guidelines, in which it concluded that guidelines to span the whole of the EU would not be feasible.

The risk assessor was asked by the European Commission to provide guidance on how nutrient-based dietary advice can be translated into guidance for the European population as a whole.

The aim was to look at the contribution of different foods or food groups to an overall diet to help maintain good health through optimal nutrition.

However EFSA’s panel on dietetic products, nutrition and allergies has concluded that it would not actually be feasible to develop a set of detailed, effective EU-wide guidelines. The reason is that diets and public health priorities differ wildly between the member states.

In other parts of the world population-wide dietary guidelines have been developed to help inform the public about healthy eating. In the US, for instance, the MyPyramid system was unveiled in 2005 – and the guidelines are updated every few years so as to reflect the latest research.

But a parallel approach looks unlikely across Europe, since it would need to “take into account wide disparities in dietary habits, due to cultural differences in eating patters and the varying availability of food products across Europe”.

For this reason, it decided rather to concentrate on the scientific process to underlie development of guidelines. In its opinion, the panel has recommended that member states analyse their own, country-specific diet-related health problems so that their guidelines can be tailored to the population’s needs.

The step-wide approach involves:

  • Identification of diet-health relationships;
  • Identification of country specific diet-related problems (such food-related health problems include obesity, cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and osteoporosis.
  • Identification of nutrients of public health importance
  • Identification of foods relevant for dietary guidelines
  • Identification of food consumption patterns
  • Testing and optimising of the guidelines
  • Graphical representations of the guidelines.

For Europe, recommendations on individual nutrients or substances in food-based terms could help consumers apply nutrition advice to their actual daily eating habits.

But the panel also stressed the need for any guidelines to be linked in with other health promotion policies, like daily physical activity.

“The early involvement of stakeholders is recommended to promote the acceptance of messages.”

To this end, EFSA will accept comments on its draft opinion, available online here , and additional scientific evidence to aid the work, until December 15.

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