Civil society abandons EU Commission’s anti-obesity forum

EU Commission spokesperson Anca Paduraru: "Commissioner Andriukaitis will invite the representatives to meet him in Brussels in the coming weeks". [Shutterstock]

A number of public health NGOs have decided to leave the European Commission-led EU Platform for Diet, Physical Activity and Health, in protest at the lack of progress in combatting obesity and related diseases.

NGOs such as the EU consumer organisation BEUC and Public Health Alliance EPHA said in a statement that the current construction of the Platform cannot adequately address increasing health challenges and is therefore “not fit for purpose”.

“The continual decrease in resources, time and attention afforded to the Platform over the years point to an acknowledgement of the limited impact that this forum, and the voluntary approach it embodies, can have,” the NGOs said.

In their statement, they also said they contacted the EU Commission, particularly DG Sante, requesting a meeting to discuss the issue, but the executive ignored their call.

“This is especially disappointing given that the Commission itself is currently reviewing and considering the future of the Platform,” the NGOs said.

Except the public health and consumers NGOs, the Platform, which has existed since 2005, also consists of food business operators as well as scientific and professional associations.

The main objectives have been to help EU governments via voluntary schemes to improve physical activity inequalities and healthy nutrition to tackle rising obesity rates and non-communicable diseases (NCDs)  across the bloc.

FoodDrinkEurope, which represents Europe’s food and drink industry, said that although it agrees that a “serious rethink” of the Platform is needed, it would be more appropriate to wait for the executive’s internal reflection.

“Instead of walking away from the conversation, we invite the seven NGOs to engage in discussion with the broader stakeholder community to discuss the best way forward for the Platform,” the industry said.

Contacted by EURACTIV, European Commission spokesperson Anca Paduraru said the executive regretted the decision of the NGOs to leave the Platform.

“Commissioner Andriukaitis will invite the representatives to meet him in Brussels in the coming weeks,” she said.

“At the same time, we would like to recall that the Platform is currently undergoing an independent assessment (that started in April) to see if its commitments are ambitious enough and have the potential to impact the health of EU citizens. We will communicate the results of this analysis as soon as it is available,” she said.

Paduraru explained that regarding the efforts on issues related to nutrition and physical activity, a specific section at the EU Health Policy Platform has been established.

“Additionally, support through the EU health programme continues in respect of the work of member states in the field of improved nutrition and physical activity in the framework of the sustainable development goals. The EU health prize has also been devoted this year to recognise efforts of NGO’s, cities and schools to prevent obesity in children,” she said.

However, this is not the first time that the civil society leaves an EU platform because it disagrees with policies.

In June 2015, twenty public health NGOs pulled out from the EU Alcohol and Health Forum (EAHF), also a Commission-led stakeholder platform with the aim of coordinating best practices and policies to tackle alcohol-related harm.

The NGOs, most of which receive EU funding, decided to abstain from the platform in protest against the executive’s refusal to submit a new alcohol strategy, which formally expired in 2012.

Paduraru said the alcohol forum has been inactive since 2015 while the related commitments of stakeholders are on hold and are not actively managed.

“The internal assessment of the Forum and of the Platform now goes in parallel,” she concluded.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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