Fresh, locally-sourced fruit, vegetables and legumes must replace foods high in fat and sugar in the EU’s fund for Most Deprived, says the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA).
The European Aid to the Most Deprived fund for 2014-2020 will keep its €3.5bn budget and broaden scope to include provisions like clothes and hygiene products to Europe’s poorest, along with food and drink.
However, EPHA – while in favour of such a fund – has called for EU political action to be taken to better address health and nutrition.
“We want the fund to provide healthier and more nutritious foods like fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrains and legumes,” said Dorota Sienkiewcz, health equity and policy hearings coordinator at EPHA.
“At the moment, the fruit and veg are tinned and are very sugary products. It’s based on a historical build-up of the programme so the products tend to be very high in sugar and fats or high in energy, which from a public health perspective is not always great,” Sienkiewcz told this publication.
In a statement, EPHA said: “The health outcomes of the deprived – especially those related to diets – have hit rock bottom. People of low socio-economic status need better, more accessible and affordable food available to them in a sustainable way – not just emergency food of high energy and fat value, as the programme is set to provide – if accepted in this form according to the proposal.”
The alliance called on political solutions to improve the nutritional profile of foods offered and access to healthy foods.
Natural foods first, functional later
Sienkiewcz said the European food and drinks industry can do a lot of good if it becomes involved and remains committed.
“They have a lot of shelf power that can be used for the advantage of poor people,” she said.
Asked if functional food and beverages could be an option, Sienkiewcz said: “Functional foods could maybe be for later, but first I think we should cover the everyday issues and provide natural foods that can promote health.”
“If we can increase the level of consumption of readily available fresh fruit and vegetables in these vulnerable groups, there would be a significant health improvement,” she added.
Sienkiewcz said proximity is also important – with locally-produced, seasonal produce the ideal.
“This would be good for local farmers too… This whole food supply chain from farm to form, from field to mouth – we see it as a continuum.”
Economy is fuelling the crisis
Sienkiewcz said deprivation across the EU is “grave” given the economic crisis. “Food poverty and nutritional insecurity is a daily occurrence for many across Europe,” she said.
“There needs to be some more action at an EU political level,” she added.