Dietary education, better access to healthy food and bans on advertising unhealthy products to children are some of the measures called for by the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Irish medical Organisation (IMO).
“Obesity is an extremely serious issue that can lead to a number of life-threatening and life-limiting health problems. Doctors have a role to play in supporting overweight patients and educating the wider public about the dangers of obesity but there is a limit as to what they can do,” said Dr Paul Darragh, Chairman of the BMA’s Northern Ireland Council.
“While our organisations have been lobbying our respective governments for some time to take effective action on this issue in order to avert the possible consequences on our children's health in the future, we believe that a joined-up approach at an EU level would help defuse this ticking health time-bomb.”
Common value health policy
The groups are calling on EU Commissioners for Health to push for a public health policy based on the common values and principles that underpin all EU healthcare systems.
They are urging governments to work with food manufacturers and advertisers to help improve the quality of people’s diets, and to encourage opportunities for regular exercise.
According to IMO, over half of the adult population in most EU member states is overweight or obese, and estimates suggest that almost 30 per cent (around 22 million) of children are overweight in the EU. Each year this figure is said to be growing by 400,000.
“Children and adolescents are an important target group for prevention. However, there is a need to be aware that adolescents may misinterpret messages about weight and concern for eating disorders needs to be considered. We strongly recommend that the focus for children should be to encourage them to be physically active and enjoy a wide range of physical activities,” said IMO President, Professor Sean Tierney.
IMO and BMA are urging for more prevention efforts rather than cures.
“Good medical practice in the treatment of obesity requires emphasis on prevention. Obesity prevention programmes/strategies combined with early treatment will reap the greatest dividends.”
The groups are calling for a joint European approach around four basic measures to:
• Educate, to increase understanding of what constitutes a balanced diet
• Improve nutrition, through better access to healthier food
• Encourage exercise and activity amongst adults and children
• Stop advertising unhealthy foodstuffs targeted at children