Obesity is on the rise, and it can have a disastrous impact on health. Lifestyle is one of the key reasons for the trend. What is the EU doing to help?
A worrying trend
Youth obesity has more than tripled in many European countries since the 1980s. The WHO Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI) estimates that about a third of 6 to 9-year-olds in the EU were overweight or obese in 2010, up from a quarter in 2008. There is a strong link between obesity and ill-health and psychosocial problems in later life, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
Reasons for the trend include:
growing consumption of fast food & sugary drinks
more meals away from home (often owing to parents' longer working hours), with more processed foods, often sold in large portions
less home cooking.
On top of this, young people – especially girls - tend to become less physically active between 11 and 15. More time online or watching TV makes for a more sedentary lifestyle – which in itself increases vulnerability to various diseases.
Combating childhood obesity - EU action
The 2014-2020 EU Action Plan on Childhood Obesity is designed to set priorities and keep track of progress. In 2007, the European Commission adopted a key policy document laying out a strategy for Europe in the field of nutrition and health problems arising from excess weight and obesity. This involves providing information, tackling the food industry and promoting research into diet and physical activity.
The aim is to encourage a healthier diet and an active lifestyle for all, and to halt the rise in excess weight and obesity among the young by 2020. One way is to improve physical education. The strategy takes account of the needs of different target groups, including less well-off people with fewer opportunities.