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Brussels, 8 December 2005

Commission launches consultation on how to promote healthy diets and physical activity

The Commission today adopted a Green Paper on the promotion of healthy diets and physical activity to begin an extensive public consultation on how to reduce obesity levels and the prevalence of associated chronic diseases in the EU. The Green Paper invites contributions on a broad range of issues related to obesity, with a view to gathering information for a European dimension to reducing obesity levels which could complement, support and coordinate existing national measures. Around 14 million EU children are currently overweight or obese, of which more than 3 million are obese. This figure is expected to continue to rise for the foreseeable future. The Green Paper calls for concrete suggestions and ideas on action that can be taken in all sectors and at every level of society to address this serious problem and to encourage Europeans towards healthier lifestyles.

EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said: “The rise in obesity is a Europe-wide problem which requires a coordinated Europe-wide approach if we are to contain and reverse this trend. More than 400 000 children are estimated to become overweight every year, and today’s overweight teenagers are tomorrow’s heart attack or diabetes victims. The Commission’s Green Paper aims to stimulate discussion about effective initiatives to promote healthy diets and physical activity, so best practice can be replicated across Europe. Apart from the health benefits and cost savings to be made from tackling obesity, a coordinated European approach will also ensure that the single market is not undermined by the emergence of a patchwork of uncoordinated national measures.”

The obesity problem

Obesity levels are increasing at an alarming rate, with up to 27% of men and 38% of women now considered to be obese in some parts of the EU. The number of overweight children is also growing rapidly, currently rising by 400 000 a year. Obesity is a risk factor for many serious illnesses including heart disease, type-2 diabetes, hypertension, stroke, and certain types of cancer. Poor nutrition and insufficient exercise are among the leading causes of avoidable death in Europe, and obesity related illnesses are estimated to account for as much as 7% of total healthcare costs in the EU.

Seeking solutions

The Green Paper acknowledges that the obesity epidemic in the EU has many causes and this requires a diversified approach to tackling the problem. The Green Paper lays the base for a detailed consultation with EU institutions, Member States and civil society, with a view to gathering ideas and information for a European dimension to reducing obesity levels which could complement, support and coordinate existing national measures.

Among the issues looked at in the paper are how the promotion of healthier lifestyles can be effectively integrated into other EU policy areas, the contribution that the Commission’s new Health and Consumer programme could make, and the role which self-regulation in the food and advertising industry can play. Respondents are asked for ideas on how information, communication and education can be improved in this area, and what actions could be taken and at what level to encourage better diets in various demographic groups. The Green Paper also looks at the role that the health services could play in promoting better diets and more activity, how research could be better focussed, and ways in which urban and transport planning could be adapted to make physical activity easier and safer.

Contributions are invited on a range of specific questions in the Green Paper, including:

  • Which kind of Community or national measures could contribute towards improving the availability, accessibility and affordability of fruits and vegetables?
  • What contribution can Community policies make towards enabling and encouraging consumers to shift towards diets lower in fat, sugar and salt?
  • Are voluntary codes (“self-regulation”) an adequate tool for limiting the advertising and marketing of energy-dense and micronutrient poor foods? What would be the alternatives to be considered if self-regulation fails?
  • How can consumers best be enable to make informed choices and take effective action? Which should be the key messages to give to consumers, how and by whom should they be delivered?
  • What is good practice for improving the nutritional value of school meals and for fostering healthy dietary choices at schools, especially as regards the excessive intake of energy-dense snacks and sugar-sweetened soft drinks?
  • In which ways can public policies contribute to ensure that physical activity be “built into” daily routines?
  • How can dietary guidelines be communicated to consumers and in which ways could nutrient profile scoring systems contribute to such developments?

Next steps

The public consultation will run until 15 March 2006, and a report summarising the contributions will be published on the Commission’s website by June 2006. In the light of the results of the consultation process, the Commission will reflect upon the most appropriate follow-up, and will consider any measures that may need to be proposed, as well as the instruments for their implementation.
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