According to latest Eurostat estimates from 2014, 51.6% of the EU’s population (18 and over) is overweight.
Healthy, active lifestyles and good dietary habits start in childhood. Schools and parents have an important role to play in influencing young people and guiding them to adopt behaviours that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
Governments, communities and the food and drink industry also have an important role to play.
Studies have shown that regular physical activity boosts health and wellbeing and should be considered as effective health interventions. Combined with portion control and food reformulation, analysts say the desired results could be achieved.
WHO insists that taxing sugar is an effective way to have a positive health impact.
Analysts also claim that evidence-based policy making and the ability to rely on clear methodologies to monitor progress are essential.
In this Special Report, EURACTIV analyses the existing challenges policymakers face when it comes to healthy lifestyles in the EU, as well as the several initiatives that have been taken ranging from food reformulation to action at school level.
The industry believes that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has no evidence to back its claim that sugar taxes are an effective way to improve public health. Instead, the industry says, taxes only lead consumers to cheaper brands with similar or even higher calorie content, which may undermine any positive health outcome.
Following an EU call to reformulate food products in order to tackle rising obesity across Europe, the Association of Greek Soft Drinks Industries (SEVA) recently launched an initiative to reduce sugar in its products by 10%.
Product reformulation, rather than taxes, has brought tangible results for public health, according to Food Drink Ireland (FDI), the main trade association for the food and drink industry.
Education about balanced diets brings tangible results according to the vending machines lobby, while parental organisations say lawmakers should insist on good habits to tackle childhood obesity, rather than regulation.
The European Commission launched the Tartu Call for a Healthy Lifestyle a year ago, mostly to address rising obesity in the EU and promote physical activity, and it has already produced “concrete results”, Tibor Navracsics, the commissioner for education, culture, youth and sport, told EURACTIV.com.