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Nutrition, overweight and obesity — EU strategy

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Nutrition, overweight and obesity — EU strategy

 

SUMMARY OF:

White Paper (COM(2007) 279 final) on nutrition-, overweight- and obesity-related health issues

WHAT IS THE AIM OF THIS WHITE PAPER?

  • The European Commission sets out an integrated EU approach towards reducing ill health due to poor nutrition, overweight and obesity.
  • It focuses on proposing actions that can be taken at local, regional, national and EU levels by a variety of partners to tackle this public health problem. These actions complement and support existing measures in EU countries.
  • It takes specific account of the socio-economic dimension of the obesity issue because of its association with more disadvantaged groups in society.

KEY POINTS

  • The primary aim of the strategy is to fight the obesogenic environment (i.e. an environment that promotes weight gain) and help citizens reduce high-risk behaviours, such as poor nutrition and lack of exercise, that lead to overweight and obesity.
  • It sets out to achieve this by focusing on actions that:
    • enable consumers to make informed choices to ensure that healthy options are available, e.g. in supermarkets and canteens;
    • encourage the involvement of the private sector;
    • the food industry (including retailers) could reformulate its product recipes, in particular by reducing levels of salt, sugar and fats, and reduce and target its marketing so that it does not inappropriately target children and so that it promotes healthier options;
    • employers could encourage healthy lifestyles (e.g. walking or cycling to work);
    • motivate people to undertake regular physical activity by stressing the health benefits.

Partnerships

  • The strategy emphasises the importance of building up partnerships across the EU to take action on the ground, i.e. at local, regional and national levels, as well as at EU level. These involve the private sector (e.g. food manufacturers, retail and the advertising industry), the public health sector and civil society organisations (e.g. sports, consumer and public health associations) working together.
  • Building on the EU platform for action on diet, physical activity and health launched in 2005, the strategy proposes that similar platforms be created at national and subnational levels in EU countries. The involvement of local stakeholders (e.g. associations and small businesses) is key to the success of the strategy because it creates a group dynamic and links as many players as possible and at all levels.
  • EU countries’ authorities are responsible for:
    • coordinating so as to ensure the relevance of the measures in the field of public health; and
    • encouraging the media to take part in developing common messages and campaigns.
  • The High Level Group on Nutrition and Physical Activity (HLG), composed of representatives of EU countries plus Norway and Switzerland, promotes the exchange of good practices and information and develops voluntary common approaches.
  • The HLG has been involved in the reformulation of food products, notably with regard to salt, saturated fat and added sugars. In 2011, it agreed on an EU Framework for National Initiatives on Selected Nutrients (based on the model of a 2008 reformulation to reduce salt in food by 16% in 4 years). Work then started on reducing saturated fat by 5% up to 2016 and by an additional 5% by 2020. In 2015, work started on the added sugars annex to promote a voluntary reduction of 10% in added sugars in processed food by 2020.
  • In 2016, the HLG agreed on a monitoring system for national reformulation initiatives, which was an important milestone and a concrete step to support national action. These efforts will ultimately benefit citizens each time they shop at the supermarket. The results of the ongoing joint action on nutrition and physical activity will also support this effort, and more developments are expected in 2017.
  • In 2014, the HLG adopted the EU action plan on childhood obesity 2014-2020, which aims to halt the rise of childhood obesity by 2020. A mid-term evaluation is being conducted.
  • In 2017, the HLG participated in the drafting and agreement of public procurement guidelines for school food.

Interdisciplinary approach

  • Although public health is at the core of the issue, the strategy, in addition to its emphasis on partnerships at all levels, highlights the fact that the fight against overweight and obesity requires a concerted approach involving a number of policy sectors. Examples include the following.
    • Education: developing information campaigns for both children and adults.
    • Consumer policy: providing clear and comprehensive information on food choices, e.g. nutritional labelling.
    • Marketing: the Audiovisual Media Services Directive encourages responsible marketing of foods, particularly to children.
    • Sport: making organised sports activities more accessible and encouraging greater participation in physical activity.
    • Urban planning and active mobility: encouraging ‘active transport and commuting’, e.g. walking, cycling and using public transport.
    • Research: finding out more about the determinants of food and physical activity choices, in particular in the context of EU (Horizon 2020) and national research-funding mechanisms.
    • Agriculture: making healthier options more affordable and available for all population groups, especially children.
    • European Parliament: pilot projects that support healthy diets in population groups are implemented by the Commission DG Health and Food Safety.

International cooperation

The Commission has been working closely with the World Health Organisation on creating reference documents and a common repository on nutrition and physical activity.

Monitoring and evaluating policies

  • Data on obesity and overweight are monitored at:
    • macro level, to obtain coherent and comparable data on universal indicators of progress in the context of the European Core Health Indicators associated with diet and physical activity;
    • country level, to assess the current activities and their impact;
    • the level of the individual actions.
  • Activities are systematically evaluated for their impact to identify those that work well.

Follow-up

Policy work on reducing overweight and obesity in Europe continues to focus on priority areas such as:

  • reducing the dietary intake of salt, saturated fat, trans fats and added sugars;
  • increasing the intake of fruit and vegetables;
  • reducing the exposure to and impact of foods high in salt, saturated fat, trans fats and added sugars on children;
  • public procurement of foods;
  • increasing physical activity and reducing sedentary behaviour;
  • increasing the rate of exclusive breastfeeding during the first 6 months;
  • reducing inequalities in diet and physical activity between population groups.

BACKGROUND

  • Poor diet and physical inactivity directly affect life expectancy and quality for millions of citizens as well as the efficiency and sustainability of health systems. Up to 7% of EU health budgets are each year spent on diseases linked to obesity. Additional costs result from loss of productivity due to health problems and premature death (2.8 million deaths per year from causes associated with overweight and obesity).
  • 52% of EU adults are overweight or obese and 17% are obese. Obesity in adults is a known risk factor of a number of serious chronic diseases including type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers and is a preventable cause of premature death.
  • Childhood obesity is a particular worry. 1 in 3 children in the EU aged 6-9 years is now overweight or obese. This is a significant increase from 2008, when 1 in 4 children was overweight or obese. Children who are overweight or obese are highly likely to remain so in adulthood. Obese children are more likely to suffer from bullying, self-confidence issues, depression and under-achievement in school.
  • For more information, see:

MAIN DOCUMENT

White Paper on a strategy for Europe on nutrition-, overweight- and obesity-related health issues (COM(2007) 279 final of 30.5.2007)

RELATED DOCUMENTS

Council conclusions on nutrition and physical activity (OJ C 213, 8.7.2014, pp. 1-6)

Council conclusions on food and nutrition security

last update 13.03.2017

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