Europe demands multi-sector approach to obesity

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Physical activity, Nutrition, Obesity, Eu

The results of the EC's public consultation on promoting healthy
diets and physical activity, published today, suggest that most
stakeholders favour a multi-sector approach to tackling obesity.

This would involve EU policies such as agriculture, education, transport and urban planning and a range of different stakeholders across national, regional and local levels co-operating to find viable solutions.

The consultation, which began in December 2005, came about because the EC felt the issue of obesity required co-ordinated action at EU level, as well as within Member States.

With around 14 million children in Europe currently overweight, of which more than 3 million are obese, this is now very much a mainstream concern.

"I welcome the results of the consultation,"​ said EU health and consumer protection commissioner Markos Kyprianou.

"The prevalence of obesity has been rising fast in Europe and there is already evidence that this is leading to increasing rates of conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The results of the consultation provide us with valuable feedback from all interested parties and will inform our strategy to promote healthy lifestyles."

Over 260 responses were received from players including the governments of the EU, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, public health community, the food industry, universities and the general public.

In addition to fostering a multi-sector approach, respondents also called for more consistency and coherence among policies, for better coordination of actions at EU level, for collection and exchange of best practices across Member States and for guidelines for nutrition and physical activity based on scientific evidence.

Information for consumers

Respondents said that consumer information, including labelling, should be clear, consistent and based on evidence, and broadly disseminated. While respondents from industry favour self-regulation, healthcare professionals, consumer organisations and NGOs were largely sceptical about the impact of self-regulation on advertising of foods high in calories but poor in nutrients.

Healthy choices

To help consumers make healthy dietary choices, respondents suggested encouraging fruit and vegetable consumption; limiting total fat and/or saturated fat intake and promoting a balanced diet. Increased consumption of whole grain, starchy or fibre-rich products and reduced consumption of sugar and soft drinks should also be encouraged.

Diet at school

Respondents believed that best practice for improving the nutritional value of school meals are: education programmes for healthy diet for children, offering free or subsidized fruit, vegetables and drinking water; training of kitchen staff and general guidelines and/or standards for school meals including regular control enforcement.

Data and impact assessment

Health impact assessment (HIA) and cost-benefit analyses of policies could be of help to increase awareness among decision makers. Availability and comparability of data on obesity could be improved by standardisation of the type of data and the method of assessment.

Respondents proposed that the EU public health action programme support further integration and dissemination of data, knowledge on effective strategies and strengthen links between sectors. Dissemination could be carried out through networks such as the European network for the promotion of health-enhancing physical activity and the European Commissions nutrition and physical activity network.

Overweight and obesity levels are increasing at an alarming rate, said Kyprianou, with up to 27 per cent of European men and 38 per cent of women now considered to be obese depending on the EU member state concerned.

The number of overweight children is also growing rapidly, rising by 400 000 a year. Obesity is a risk factor for many serious conditions including heart disease, type-2 diabetes, hypertension, stroke, and certain types of cancer.

Poor nutrition and insufficient physical activity are among the leading causes of avoidable death in Europe. Obesity related illnesses are estimated to account for as much as 7 per cent of total healthcare costs in the EU.

Kyprianou said that the EC's nutrition and physical activity network, as well as the EU platform on diet, physical activity and health will be key forums to discuss these issues further with government, industry and civil society and to identify ways to engage stakeholders and make progress on these issues.

"The Commission will now further consider which policy options to adopt, and fine-tune its action with the right balance between voluntary agreements and legislative action,"​ he said.

Related topics: Science

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