Brussels, 15 March 2005
Markos Kyprianou, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, has pledged to act together with industry and consumer groups, health experts and political leaders to tackle Europe’s obesity epidemic, as figures published today show the number of EU schoolchildren who are overweight rising by about 400,000 per year. The data from the International Obesity Task Force (IOTF) claims the extent of Europe’s obesity problem may have been underestimated due to under reporting in some countries, and that more than 200 million adults across the EU may be overweight or obese. “Obesity is rising rapidly, and Europe’s expanding waistline brings with it devastating consequences for public health and huge economic costs. Our continent is facing an obesity epidemic every bit as bad as the one in North America. I am particularly alarmed at the continued rise of overweight and obesity among school children”, said Commissioner Kyprianou. “The EU Platform for Action which we are launching today is Europe’s contribution to confronting this challenge. Business, civil society and government must work together to stem the rise of obesity among our children”.
Commissioner Kyprianou continued: “The Platform will consider voluntary action in the fields of consumer information and education, marketing and advertising, promotion of physical activity, composition of food and portion sizes. I hope to see the first initiatives adopted in 2006, and these should have practical benefits. The real test is whether the process of cooperation we are launching today can deliver results”.
The rising prevalence of obesity, particularly among young people, has alarmed health experts. Obesity is a risk factor for many serious illnesses including heart disease, hypertension, stroke, respiratory disease, arthritis and certain types of cancer. Europe’s obesity epidemic has already been blamed for a rise in the number of people who develop type 2 diabetes. Poor diet and lack of exercise are among the leading causes of avoidable death in Europe, with obesity estimated to account for between 2% and 8% of healthcare costs.
The European Platform for Action on Diet and Physical Activity brings together the key EU-level representatives of the food, retail, catering, and advertising industries, consumer organisations and health NGOs. The Platform held its first meeting today with the participation of founder members Commissioner Markos Kyprianou, Mars Di Bartolomeo, Luxembourg’s Minister of Health and Karl-Heinz Florenz MEP, Chairman of the Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee, along with representatives of the business, civil society and public sector organisations.
Over the coming months, members of the Platform will put forward action plans detailing the activities they will undertake to promote healthier diets or encourage people to take more exercise.
The EU Platform will aim to support national and local level initiatives through the actions of its members and help to catalyse new initiatives across the EU. The Platform will also act as a forum within which stakeholders can scrutinise each others’ actions to fight obesity and verify whether commitments made are actually being delivered on.
See also MEMO/05/91 for more information on the Platform.