Money matters in obesity

Pressed by lack of financial means, low-income social groups often choose to buy foods high in calories and face difficulties in accessing facilities for physical activity, said participants at a European parliamentary symposium on obesity.

The first European Parliamentary symposium on the fight against obesity took place on 18 October 2007. Under discussion were, among others, the role of education, information and awareness-raising in promoting balanced diets and encouraging physical activity.

“If we are urging people to lead healthy lifestyles, our message has to be supported by structural measures that are in line with it. People need to be given the possibility of choosing and buying healthy foods and accessing physical activity infrastructure,” said Maria Iglesia-Gomez from the Commission directorate-general for health and consumer protection.

Stakeholders also debated ways to cure obesity as well as the food industry’s commitments to increasing healthy choice through product innovation.

"In the day after the World Day for the eradication of poverty, it is important to recall the connection between obesity and poverty. In fact, due to a lack of financial means, many European households no longer have access to highly nutritious food products such as quality milk, fruit and vegetables. That is why Europe could contribute, by a reform of the CAP, in support of the supply of quality fruit and vegetables at more affordable prices," said MEP Frédérique Ries, author of a recent parliamentary report on promoting healthy eating and physical activity.

"Some foods are too expensive for low-income people in society. They turn more to high-energy intensity products. In Sweden, for example, the high social groups do not really have an obesity problem whereas the low-income groups do. This phenomenon is reproduced regarding access to physical activity. The low-income groups have problems here again as they experience problems in accessibility to physical activity, due to costs," said Francesco Branca from the WHO regional office for Europe.

"A priority focus regarding physical obesity and obesity prevention should be children and people of low economic status," said Winfried Banzer from ENGSO, an NGO representing European sports organisations.

Overweight and obesity figures are increasing at an alarming rate in Europe, in particular among lower income groups. Sedentary modern lifestyles and over-eating have elevated obesity to the number one public health challenge of the 21st century. Rapidly increasing childhood obesity is of particular concern. 

The European strategy to fight obesity, proposed by the Commission in May 2007, highlights the need for better information for consumers, enabling a healthy choice and encouraging physical activity as the main tools to counter the challenge. The food industry and advertising sector have been given until 2010 to develop, implement, monitor and demonstrate self-regulation.

Subscribe to our newsletters


Want to know what's going on in the EU Capitals daily? Subscribe now to our new 9am newsletter.