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A Strategy for Europe on nutrition, overweight and obesity related health issues

In this White Paper, the Commission outlines a strategy for Europe to reduce ill health due to poor nutrition. This strategy, which focuses on effective partnerships, aims to propose concrete steps which can be taken at Community level so that poor nutrition and lack of physical exercise are no longer the main causes of avoidable illness and premature death in Europe.

ACT

White Paper of 30 May 2007, "A Strategy for Europe on Nutrition, Overweight and Obesity related health issues" [COM(2007) 279 final - Not published in the Official Journal].

SUMMARY

The purpose of this White Paper is to set out an integrated approach to contribute to reducing ill health due to poor nutrition, overweight and obesity.

In order to tackle this public health problem, the Commission is in favour of the mainstreaming of nutrition and consumption policies, including in the areas of sport, education and transport. It is also vital to take into account the socio-economic dimension of the problem, as it is disadvantaged groups who suffer most from obesity. According to the Commission, Community measures to tackle obesity must be based on four pillars:

  • a clear reduction in high-risk behaviours (poor nutrition, lack of physical exercise);
  • the actions described are intended to work across government policy areas and at different levels, using a range of instruments including legislation, public-private partnerships and dialogue with civil society;
  • the participation of the private sector, for example the agri-food industry and civil society, as well as local stakeholders;
  • the systematic evaluation and follow-up of these measures to find out what is working well.

A partnership-based approach

The Commission is promoting initiatives such as the European Platform for Action "Diet, Physical Activity and Health", launched in March 2005. Over almost two years, the members of the Platform have started more than 200 initiatives to promote better nutrition and physical activity in the EU. Ideas based on the creation of a clear and reliable system to monitor undertakings and a local approach have been developed.

The involvement of local stakeholders (associations, SMEs) is one of the keys to the success of the strategy. In order to create a group dynamic, it is vital to create multilateral partnerships linking as many players as possible at all levels. The national authorities would be responsible for coordination, in order to ensure the relevance of the measures in the field of public health. The Member States would also be responsible for encouraging the media to take part in developing common messages and campaigns.

The Commission will create a high-level group on health, nutrition and physical exercise in order to promote the exchange of practices and improve links with governments. This group's task will be to ensure that the Member States exchange ideas and good practices in all of their government policies. The European Platform will facilitate communication between the various sectors, and the mandate of the European network on nutrition will be extended to support the group's work.

Better-informed consumers

Food and lifestyle preferences are often the product of the environment where a person grows up. In the light of this, the Commission would like to encourage three aspects:

  • improving information for consumers, in particular by way of nutritional labelling, the overhaul of which is currently being studied by the Commission. Another related aspect is that of the rules concerning claims made by the manufacturers of food products, in order to monitor the reliability of the scientific and nutritional information communicated by manufacturers;
  • promoting codes of conduct for advertising and marketing where the message is intended to influence eating habits, especially those of children;
  • developing specific education and information campaigns (e.g. on poor nutrition and overweight) for vulnerable groups, in cooperation with the Member States and the stakeholders concerned.

More accessible healthy food

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) can be used by the Commission to achieve its public health objectives. Reform of the common market organisation for fruit and vegetables is one of these tools: the Commission will encourage the distribution of surplus production to public educational establishments and children's holiday centres. The Commission has other promotional tools at its disposal, thanks to reform of the common organisation of the market, such as campaigns targeting young consumers or the creation of a project to encourage the consumption of fruit at school, co-funded by the EU.

Encouraging physical activity

The Commission defines physical activity as a whole range of activities from organised sports to "active commuting" and wants the Member States and the EU to take proactive steps in this area, including steps relating to sustainable urban transport.

Priority groups and environments

Obesity is increasing significantly among children, particularly those from the most disadvantaged socio-economic groups. Nevertheless, local activities targeting children (0-12 years) in the areas of nutritional and physical education have proved to be effective. These two disciplines are thus priorities in the new Lifelong Learning Programme (2007-2013).

The role of research

Research plays a major role in combating obesity, so the Commission wishes to find out more about the determinants of food choices, in particular by way of the health and nutrition strand of the seventh EU research framework programme.

Monitoring policies

The Commission has decided to step up the monitoring of data on obesity and overweight at three main levels:

  • at macro level, to obtain coherent and comparable data on universal indicators of progress in the context of the European Community Health Indicators (ECHI) associated with diet and physical activity;
  • at Member State level, to assess the current activities and their impact;
  • at the level of the individual programmes.

The Commission would, however, like to point out that all the actions proposed will complement and support existing measures in the Member States.

Involvement of the private sector

Private-sector players can help to promote healthy eating habits among consumers, e.g.

  • by promoting healthy foods by making them more accessible and affordable: the food industry also has a role to play in adjusting the ingredients of its products (salt, fat and sugar content);
  • by informing consumers, retailers and enterprises and contributing to voluntary initiatives at national level;
  • by encouraging physical exercise. Sports organisations could work with the public health sector to create advertising and marketing campaigns to promote physical activity;
  • by targeting priority groups. An appropriate non-commercial partnership between schools and the private sector could be created. It would also be a good idea for companies to contribute to promoting healthy lifestyles among their staff at the workplace;
  • by copying good practices, in particular those of civil society organisations working in the fields of health, youth and sports whose methods have proved to be effective.

International cooperation

The Commission is currently collaborating with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to develop a nutrition and physical activity surveillance system for the EU27 as one of the follow-up actions of the European Charter on Counteracting Obesity adopted in Istanbul on 16 November 2006.

Last updated: 30.06.2011

See also

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