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Nutrition, overweight and obesity — EU strategy

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Nutrition, overweight and obesity — EU strategy


European Commission White Paper on Nutrition, Overweight and Obesity-related health issues (COM(2007) 279 final)



  • 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.


The primary aim of the white paper is to 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 (e.g. more nutritious foods) are available in shops and canteens;
  • encourage the involvement of the private sector
    • the food industry could reformulate recipes, in particular by reducing levels of salt, sugar and fats
    • employers could encourage healthy lifestyles (e.g. walking or cycling to work);
  • motivate people to exercise more by stressing the benefit of physical activity.


  • The white paper 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 and the advertising industry), the public health sector and civil society organisations (e.g. sports and consumer associations) working together.
  • Building on the EU Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, launched in 2005, the paper proposes that similar platforms be created at national and sub-national 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 at all levels.
  • EU countries’ authorities are responsible for:
    • coordination 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 health, nutrition and physical activity promotes the exchange of practices and improved links with governments. It seeks to ensure that EU countries (as well as Norway and Switzerland) exchange ideas and good practices in all of their government policies in the field.

Interdisciplinary approach

  • Although public health is at the core of the issue, the paper, 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:
    • Education: developing information campaigns for both children and adults;
    • Consumer policy: providing clear and comprehensive information on food choices, e.g. nutritional labelling;
    • Sport: making organised sports activities more accessible and encouraging greater participation in physical activity;
    • Urban planning and sustainable transport: encouraging ‘active commuting’, e.g. walking and cycling to work and other activities;
    • Research: finding out more about the determinants of food choices, in particular by way of the Food and Healthy Diet strand of Horizon 2020;
    • Agriculture: making healthier food more widely available by encouraging the donation of surplus production to schools’ canteens and children’s holiday centres to promote healthier eating.

International cooperation

The Commission has been working closely with the World Health Organisation on creating a common repository on nutrition and physical activity — one of the follow-up actions of the European Charter on Counteracting Obesity adopted in Istanbul on 16 November 2006.

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.


In July 2014, the Council adopted conclusions on nutrition and physical activity. Noting that, each year, up to 7 % of health budgets are directly spent on diseases linked to obesity, and that other indirect costs result from lost productivity and premature death, these conclusions list actions to be taken to address the situation.


The need for EU action in the area of nutrition and physical activity stems from the fact that poor diets and low levels of physical activity in Europe account for 7 of the 7 leading risk factors for ill health in Europe. The prevalence of overweight and obesity has increased sharply since the 1980s. In the majority of EU countries more than 50 % of adults are now overweight or obese, and the figures for overweight children are significant and growing.

For more information, see:


White Paper on A Strategy for Europe on Nutrition, Overweight and Obesity related health issues (COM(2007) 279 final of 30.5.2007)


Council conclusions on nutrition and physical activity (2014/C 213/01) (OJ C 213, 8.7.2014, pp. 1-6)

last update 18.04.2016