Green Paper on promoting healthy diets and physical activity
Through this Green paper on promoting healthy diets and physical activity, the Commission intends to trigger debate on initiatives geared towards preventing obesity. The primary objective is to create conditions under which the best practices can be adopted throughout Europe.
At present, in the EU countries, up to 27% of the male population and 38% of females, including more than 3 million children, suffer from obesity.
Green Paper of 8 December 2005 "Promoting healthy diets and physical activity: a European dimension for the prevention of overweight, obesity and chronic diseases" [COM(2005) 637 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
Unhealthy diets and lack of physical activity are the leading causes of avoidable illness and premature death in Europe, and the rising incidence of obesity is a major public health concern for the countries of the European Union (EU).
In its conclusions of 3 June 2005, the Council called on the Member States and the Commission to devise and implement initiatives aimed at promoting healthy diets and physical activity.
Furthermore, the Council stressed that many factors have to be taken into account when addressing the problem of obesity. It accordingly called for the development of strategies entailing a multi-stakeholder approach with action being taken at local, regional, national and European levels.
Objectives of the Green Paper
The Green Paper invites contributions from interested parties on a wide range of topics relating to nutrition and physical activity. The aim is to gather information with a view to giving a European dimension to the battle against obesity, in terms of support for and coordination of the existing national measures.
COMMUNITY-LEVEL STRUCTURES AND INSTRUMENTS
A number of instruments and structures are geared to combating obesity at European level.
European Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health
Launched in March 2005, the Platform is designed to establish a common forum for action in the fight against obesity. It brings together all the relevant players at European level who are willing to enter into binding commitments to tackle overweight and obesity issues.
European Network on Nutrition and Physical Activity
The purpose of the Network set up in 2003 is to advise the Commission on the development of Community activities to improve nutrition, to reduce and prevent diet-related diseases, to promote physical activity and to combat obesity.
Health across EU policies
Preventing overweight and obesity entails an integrated approach to better health through other Community policies (e.g. consumer, social, agriculture, environment, education policies) providing active support.
The Public Health Action Programme
Nutrition-related aspects and the problem of obesity crop up in various strands of the Action Programme, particularly from the point of view of information (collection of data on the epidemiology of obesity and on behavioural issues) and health determinants (support for projects aimed at promoting physical exercise and healthy eating habits).
The Commission's proposal for a new programme on health and consumer protection also places emphasis on promotion and prevention in the area of nutrition and physical activity.
On the subject of existing Community-level structures and instruments, the Green Paper invites the interested parties to respond to a series of questions focusing on:
- the specific contribution which EU policies could make towards the promotion of healthy diets and physical activity;
- the type of Community or national measures which could help to improve the attractiveness, availability, accessibility and affordability of fruit and vegetables;
- the way in which the Public Health Action Programme could help to raise awareness of the potential which healthy eating habits and physical activity have for reducing the risk of chronic diseases.
AREAS FOR ACTION
Efforts to promote healthy diets and physical activity and to combat obesity are likely to be spread across many areas. For each area concerned, the Commission is seeking the views of interested parties by asking a number of specific questions.
Consumer information and advertising
Consumer policy aims to empower people to make informed choices about their diet, and clear information about the nutritional content of products is a necessary element of this approach.
The Commission has accordingly presented a proposal for a regulation aimed at harmonising the rules concerning nutritional and health claims. The Commission is also considering amending the current rules on nutrition labelling.
As regards advertising and marketing, steps have to be taken to ensure that consumers are not misled and, in particular, that the credulity and lack of media savvy among vulnerable consumers (especially children) are not exploited.
In this field, self-regulation of the industry may provide a valid solution, as it has a number of advantages over external regulation, mainly in terms of speed and flexibility.
Questions. The questions raised in this Green Paper deal mainly with:
- the major nutrients and categories of products to be considered when providing nutritional information to consumers;
- voluntary codes (self-regulation), their effectiveness, and alternatives to be considered if self-regulation fails;
- the measures to be taken to ensure that that children's credulity and lack of media savvy are not exploited by advertising and marketing techniques.
People need to be better informed about the factors which play a role in causing obesity, with particular reference to:
- the relationship between diet and health;
- energy intake and output;
- diets which lower the risk of chronic diseases;
- healthy food choices.
In this connection, simple and clear messages need to be developed and disseminated through various media channels and in forms appropriate to local culture, age and gender.
Questions. With a view to identifying best practices, the participants are invited to respond to questions on the following matters:
- ways of helping consumers to make fully informed choices;
- the contribution of public-private partnerships towards consumer education;
- the key messages which need to be conveyed to consumers in respect of diet and physical activity, how to deliver them and who should be responsible for this.
Focusing on children and young people
The eating habits which are developed during childhood and adolescence are often the precursor of health problems occurring in adulthood.
Schools can provide an environment which helps to steer children towards healthy habits and behavioural patterns. They are particularly well placed to promote health and to encourage healthy eating and physical activity.
Although the measures applied within schools come under the competence of the Member States, the Community can make a contribution by helping to identify and spread best practices.
Questions. The areas concerned are:
- improvement of the nutritional value of school meals and ways of informing parents about how to improve the nutritional value of meals at home;
- good practice regarding the provision of regular physical activity in schools;
- good practice in encouraging school pupils to make healthy dietary choices;
- the role of the media, health services, civil society and sectors of industry in supporting health education efforts made by schools.
Like schools, the workplace can also provide a suitable environment for encouraging healthy eating and physical exercise (meal choices offered by canteens, availability of facilities for participating in physical activity, etc.)
Questions. The questions deal with:
- the way in which employers can offer balanced meal choices in workplace canteens and improve the nutritional value of canteen meals;
- measures which would encourage and facilitate the taking of physical activity during breaks and on the way to and from work.
The health professionals' role
Health professionals have a major role to play in improving patients' understanding of the relationship between diet, physical activity and health, and in bringing about the necessary lifestyle changes.
Questions. In this area, the Commission is seeking the views of the interested parties on the measures needed to boost the promotion of healthy diets and physical activity in health services.
Linkage with other policies
Transport and urban planning policies have a role to play in encouraging physical activity. They can help to make physical activity a more integral part of people's daily lives by, for example, ensuring that walking and cycling are easy and safe, or by promoting non-motorised modes of transport.
Questions. The questions have to do with:
- the way in which public policies can help to ensure that physical activity becomes an integral part of daily life;
- the measures needed to foster the creation of environments that are conducive to physical activity.
Social status, income and level of education are the main determinants as regards the food which people choose to eat and the extent to which they engage in physical activity.
Questions. The questions focus on:
- the measures which could promote healthy eating and physical activity among population groups and households of certain lower-level socio-economic categories;
- how to address the "clustering of bad habits" that is frequently seen in certain socio-economic groups?
A comprehensive and integrated approach
A consistent and comprehensive approach towards diet and physical activity involves taking account of these aspects in all relevant policies at local, regional, national and European levels, creating supportive environments, and devising and using appropriate tools for assessing the impact of other policies on nutritional health and physical activity.
Questions. The questions relate to:
- the identification of the most important elements of an integrated and comprehensive approach towards encouraging physical activity and healthy eating;
- the input at the national and Community levels.
The organisations concerned are invited to submit their replies by 15 March 2006 at the latest. The Commission departments will then conduct an analysis of the contributions received, which will be summarised in a report due to be published in June 2006.
In the light of the results of the consultation process, the Commission will consider the measures to be proposed and the instruments needed for implementing them.
Further information can be found on the European Commission's " Public Health " website: