Vassiliou: 'Europeans should get out of their chairs more often'

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Some 60% of Europeans seldom engage in sport or physical activity, says EU Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou, who urges Europeans to get out of their chairs to help combat obesity.

Androulla Vassiliou is EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism, Sport, Media and Youth. She answered questions by EurActiv's Henriette Jacobsen ahead of the obesity conference "Eat well, drink well, move ... A small step for you, a big step for Europe" in Brussels on 17 September, where she will be one of the keynote speakers.

What is the Commission's new initiative on physical activity about?

The Commission’s recent proposal for a Council Recommendation aims at promoting HEPA across all those policy sectors that have a role to play in this field, i.e. sport and health, education, urban planning, the work environment.

Our proposal is based on the 2008 EU Physical Activity Guidelines and introduces a new monitoring framework, including a set of indicators. This should enable member states, over time, to identify trends and to adapt their policies towards a more cross-sectoral approach on HEPA. The initiative takes account of the existing good practice in member states and addresses the differences in tackling the physical inactivity challenge that exist between them.

How can the initiative help combating obesity in the EU?

Regular exercise and participation in sport and physical activity is known to be one of the best and most effective means of tackling excess weight and obesity. If we manage to get more people in Europe out of their chairs more often we can make a huge difference.

The initiative is the first ever proposal for a Council Recommendation on sport. Why are you launching this now?

Following the adoption of the EU Physical Activity Guidelines in 2008 we have seen that some member states have used them as a source of inspiration to re-design their policies on HEPA.

However, available evidence tells us that 60% of Europeans still do not or only seldom engage in sport and physical activity. We have therefore consulted broadly with member states, stakeholders and experts on whether the EU should adopt a focused approach on HEPA promotion.

The feedback we received was positive. For instance, last year, the Council called on the Commission to present a proposal for a Council Recommendation. With the sport chapter in Erasmus+, the new programme for education, training, youth and sport, we will now also have a budget to support the implementation of that Recommendation.

What else can be done to encourage Europeans to adopt healthier lifestyles?

Awareness-raising remains important. To this end, the Commission is planning to launch a European Week of Sport. I am currently discussing ideas with relevant public and private stakeholders. There is a lot of support for this idea. In addition, the Commission has other upcoming initiatives to promote a healthier lifestyle through its health policy, also focusing on nutrition.

At the obesity conference on 17th September, some health experts will state that we should move away from only focusing on a person's Body Mass Index (BMI) to determine whether a person is obese but focus instead on waist circumference to predict whether a person is at risk of getting for example type 2 diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular diseases. What do you think of this message?

I believe this discussion is of real interest, which is why I have decided to attend this conference. In our proposal for the Council Recommendation, however, this aspect is not a key element. What is important is that this problem is tackled at different levels (science, public policy, individual choices) and I am glad that this conference will touch upon this multi-sectoral approach.

Clearly the science is a fundamental element, hence the need for constantly refining the way we calculate the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. I look forward to the discussions in this regard.

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