Obesity should be formally recognised as a chronic disease, campaigners urged this week, saying Europe is in the grip of an "obesity epidemic" with half its citizens overweight.
Campaigners stepped up their calls for Europe to formally recognise obesity as a chronic disease ahead of European Obesity Day on 21 May.
The move came as stakeholders groups warned that chronic, and long-term diseases in general, face cuts in the upcoming EU research budget reforms and pushed for commitments to EU funding.
European Obesity Day President Jean-Paul Allonsius, speaking at a lunch staged in the European Parliament to raise awareness of the day, called on the EU and member states to recognise obesity as a chronic disease, and help sufferers to find ways of living with the condition.
He said: "This would require the creation of formal healthcare policies to address what is now an EU-wide epidemic."
At present only Portugal recognises obesity as a chronic disease.
European Obesity Day is aiming to achieve the first successful EU citizens' initiative petition with a call on member states and the EU executive to recognise obesity as a chronic disease.
It also wants the Commission to help develop clinical guidelines on weight loss and to develop a public 'scorecard' of member states' efforts to reduce obesity, encouraging the sharing of best practice. It believes such actions will be easier to achieve once the condition is recognised as a chronic disorder.
David Haslam, a GP and clinical director of the National Obesity Forum in the UK, said the EU should support people with obesity – and claimed there was evidence of a link between obesity, especially in middle-aged women, and the onset of Alzheimer's disease.
Chronic diseases to lose out in research re-jig?
Meanwhile, chronic disease in general is in danger of suffering funding cuts under the new research framework programme – FP8 – according to the European Public Health Association (EUPHA).
At a meeting in Brussels this week (4 May), EUPHA's co-ordinator for public health research, Professor Mark McCarthy, said: "Spending at present is distorted towards industry and pharmaceutical. We need research linked to public policy."
McCarthy said that under the current EU research programmes, around 20% of spending under the structural funds is directed at health research, equivalent to around €70 billion over seven years, and a further €6 billion comes from the FP7 programme.
He told EURACTIV: "Our concern is that when under the new common strategic framework [which will be unveiled later this year] – the structural funds are rolled into the new framework, insufficient attention will be given to not-for-profit research for the benefit of the public sector, rather than for-profit industry; that not enough emphasis will be placed on health care and prevention of chronic diseases, rather than their treatment."
Call for action on pain
Another group meeting for a symposium in the European Parliament this week – the European Federation of the International Association for the Study of Pain – published a seven-point call for action on the institutions to raise the awareness of chronic pain across the continent.
It also included demands for pain research to be a priority of FP8, and the establishment of an EU platform for the exchange, comparison and benchmarking of best practices between member states on pain management.
Irish centre-right MEP Jim Higgins told the symposium that he intended to get the action plan adopted as a formal written declaration of the European Parliament.