Commission launches initiative to promote physical activity in Europe

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The European Commission on Wednesday (28 August) adopted an initiative on health-enhancing physical activity which is the first ever proposal for a Council Recommendation on sport.

Sport and physical activity help people to stay physically and mentally fit by combating excessive weight and obesity and preventing related health conditions.

Obesity is one of the main risk factors for the development of non-communicable diseases, notably cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular and lung diseases.

It is estimated that non-communicable diseases are the main causes behind almost 86% of deaths in Europe, and 77% of the disease burden.

In Europe, it is estimated that 50% of all men and women were overweight in 2008, and on average around 23% of all women and 20% of men were obese, according to the World Health Organization.

"Much more can be done through our policies to encourage people to get out of their chairs," said Androulla Vassiliou, the commissioner responsible for sport.

"This initiative is an important milestone in the Commission's efforts to promote health-enhancing physical activity in the EU. We propose to member states to take measures across all those policy sectors that can enable citizens' to be or to become physically active," the commissioner continued.

A key aim of the proposal is to help member states to trace developments and identify trends regarding their national efforts to promote sport and physical activity.

"By acting together with the member states we will reduce the significant costs arising from by the lack of physical activity in Europe," Vassiliou added.

Over the past years, the EU has promoted physical activity through policies and financing to support on-going efforts in the member states.

Despite these efforts the rates of physical inactivity in the EU remain alarmingly high, with two thirds of Europeans never or seldom exercising or playing sport.

The European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE), a think tank, pointed out in 2013 that the growing levels of obesity, claiming the problem would lead to higher taxes and higher expenditures in the healthcare systems.

"So far we haven't seen the big pushes in healthcare costs from obesity, but they are very likely to come in the future. Part of this because we see a growth in obesity, but also because people tend to live longer and when they live longer, the demand for healthcare related to unhealthy lifestyles gets much higher," ECIPE director Fredrik Erixon stated.

"Left unchecked, we are going to see a very profound effect on healthcare expenditures in the next couple of decades coming from growing levels of obesity," he added.

Obesity increases the likelihood of various diseases, particularly heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, certain types of cancer, and osteoarthritis.

Obesity is most commonly caused by a combination of excessive food energy intake, lack of physical activity, and genetic susceptibility, although a few cases are caused primarily by genes, endocrine disorders, medications or psychiatric illness.

  • Sept. 2013: The Council will start discussing the proposed recommendation and could possibly adopt it in 2013. EU support for the implementation of the measures is proposed to come from Erasmus+, due to start in 2014.
  • 17 Sept.: Conference on obesity "Eat well, drink well, move ... A small step for you, a big step for Europe" to be held in Brussels.

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