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Brussels, 9th November 2006

Questions and Answers on the EU Platform on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, and its commitments

What is the situation in terms of obesity and overweight across the EU?

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

Overall obesity levels in Southern Europe are higher than those in Northern Europe as traditional Mediterranean diets give way to more processed foods rich in fat, sugar and salt. Spain, Italy, Portugal, Malta and Crete report overweight and obesity levels exceeding 30% among 7-11 year olds, while England, Ireland, Cyprus, Sweden and Greece report levels of above 20%. France, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany, Denmark, Netherlands and Bulgaria report overweight levels of 10-20% among this age group.

What is the EU Platform on Diet, Physical Activity and Health?

The Platform was launched on March 15, 2005. It is a practical example of the Commission’s commitment to better and simpler regulation. It brings together a broad range of key stakeholders in an open and pro-active way. As all stakeholders participate voluntarily, it allows actions to be taken much faster than through legislation.

Who are the members of the Platform?

The Platform brings together the key EU-level representatives of the food, retail, catering, and advertising industries, the cooperative movement, consumer organisations, health professionals and health NGOs. Its founding members are the European Commission, the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU (CIAA), EuroCommerce – which represents the retail, wholesale and international trade sectors in Europe, the European Community of Consumer Cooperatives (EURO COOP), the European Consumers Organisation (BEUC), the European Heart Network (EHN), the European Modern Restaurants Association, the European Vending Association (EVA), the International Obesity Task Force (IOTF), the Standing Committee of European Doctors (CPME) and the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA). The World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have joined the Platform as observers.

What are the “commitments” adopted by the Platform members?

These key pledges vary in size from focused local actions to Europe-wide multi-sector initiatives. They include the food industry’s promise to arrive at common marketing communications principles, to be in place in 80% of Member States by 2007, or the initiatives of the European soft drinks association not to market its products directly to children under 12.

What are the main priorities outlined in the different commitments?

Areas touched upon by the 146 commitments include:

  • Promoting a healthy lifestyle based on education on nutrition and physical activity: the pledges in this area vary from very broad (e.g. campaigns, websites) to more direct (e.g. discounts on gym membership, access to nutritionists, workshops, opening walking paths).
  • Advertising/Marketing: the food and drinks industry has reviewed its basic principles on advertising and has pledged to implement them in 80% of Member States by the end of 2007. These principles will now cover all advertising tools (television, internet, activities in schools etc). The Union of Beverage Manufacturers (UNESDA) has pledged not to market directly to children under 12 across the EU, and has set performance indicators to measure this action.
  • Nutrition information and labelling: several companies have volunteered to include nutrition information on their products. The fruit and vegetable industry will launch a pan-European logo to encourage children to eat more fresh produce. Restaurants will adapt menus to provide more nutritional information.
  • Dissemination: actions include increasing publication of articles on obesity in medical journals to keep health professionals well-informed.
  • Research and surveys: includes actions on research into developing innovative food products.
  • Product redevelopment/reformulation/portion sizes: catering organisations have pledged to offer more balanced menus and reduce levels of fat, salt and sugar. The soft drinks association, UNESDA committed to increase numbers of no-calorie or light drinks.
  • Policy development: Several non-industry members pledged to focus on influencing policy-makers through lobbying, organising conferences etc.

What are the companies and commitments “named and praised” today?
The Commission has decided to highlight:

  • The 9 soft drinks companies in UNESDA who have committed not to advertise to children under 12 and have set up a system of independent consultants to monitor the implementation of this commitment;
  • McDonald’s for their commitment to provide nutritional information on packaging throughout Europe;
  • Unilever for their commitment to reformulate products;
  • Kraft for their commitment not to market certain products directly to children unless they meet a certain nutritional profile.

How does the Platform fit with the Commission’s wider strategy on nutrition and physical activity?

The Platform is one of several EU initiatives currently underway. For instance, the Commission is funding projects under the EU’s Public Health Programme, it has launched a network of Member State experts on nutrition and physical activity, and adopted new legislation to regulate the use of health and nutritional claims by companies marketing food (see IP/06/1530). However, an overarching strategy is called for. Addressing obesity requires action in terms of nutrition but also promoting physical activity and healthy lifestyles. In December 2005 the Commission presented a Green Paper with its initial ideas on this. This Green Paper launched a broad consultation and its results were presented on 11 September 2006.

Over 260 responses were received from players including the governments of EU countries, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, the public health community, the food industry, universities and the general public. Given the complexity of the issue, most contributors called for a multi-sector approach, involving action and coherence across EU policies. Many contributors also called for special attention to be paid to children and youth, where fast increases in obesity are being observed. There were also calls for better consumer information on nutrition, and for this to be clear, consistent and evidence-based.
For more information on EU policy on nutrition and obesity:
For more information on the EU Platform for action on diet, physical activity and health please visit:

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