Commissioner warns of obesity-related economic melt-down

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition

Obesity threatens not only our physical health, but also the health
of our economies, the European Commissioner for Health and Consumer
Protection said in his closing speech at last weeks EU - US
Conference on Diet Physical Activity and Health.

"This is a common challenge that we are facing, the biggest health threat of the twenty first century,​" said Markos Kyprianou.

"This conference has helped us give a new transatlantic perspective to our debate on nutrition and physical activity."

Perspective is certainly needed. It is estimated for example that obesity accounts for up to 7 per cent of direct health care costs. Kyprianou believes that this will further increase given the rising obesity trends.

"The wider costs to the economy working days lost, early retirement - are even more worrying,​ "he said.

"In fact, it is estimated that the percentage of disability-adjusted life years lost due to obesity, poor nutrition and physical inactivity is even higher than that due to smoking."

As last weeks discussion made clear, there is not one single solution to this problem. This view is reflected in the European Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, which brings together key EU-level representatives of the food, retail, catering, and advertising industries, consumer organisations and health NGOs.

This approach has been welcomed by the food and drink industry, which has long argued that the industry should not bear sole responsibility for the current obesity crisis.

"There is still room for progress in a number of areas and a crucial need to put in place a real monitoring and evaluation framework for all the Platform initiatives,"​ said Kyprianou. "Unless we have proper monitoring, the Platform will lack credibility."

Of course, there is already a body of EC food law which is relevant to nutrition and will have impact on consumers ability to make informed choices. One is the Nutrition and Health Claims proposal, which was adopted in July 2003 and contains rules for use of claims on food.

The proposal is in its second reading in Parliament. The main elements of the proposal are the requirement for nutrient profiling to be able to make a claim and the authorisation procedure for health claims.

"Another piece of legislation I wish to mention is the Proposal for a Regulation on the addition of vitamins and minerals and of certain other substances to foods adopted in 2003."

"This regulation establishes a list of vitamins or minerals that may be added to food while providing specific rules on labelling. It will also include criteria for the establishment of maximum/minimum levels of vitamins and minerals in food."

This proposal is now also in its second reading. But Kyprianou believes that while legislation can and should play an important part in tackling obesity, it is just a part of the solution.

"Overweight and obesity are rapidly reaching epidemic proportions on both sides of the Atlantic,​" he concluded. "400,000 more children become obese every year in the EU, and obesity has doubled in the US in the last decade.

"We all have a share of the blame, a share of responsibility, and we all have to be part of the solution."

Related topics: Science

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