Commission takes on obesity problem

A Commission’s green paper on tackling obesity forms the basis for a public consultation on the promotion of healthy diets and physical activity in the EU.

The Commission adopted a green paper on tackling obesity on 8 December 2005. It acknowledges that the obesity epidemic has many causes and that a diversified approach to tackle the problem is therefore necessary. Action is needed in terms of nutrition, promoting physical activity and healthy lifestyles. 

The paper presents the Commission’s initial ideas on how to tackle obesity and lays the base for a detailed consultation with EU institutions, member states and civil society. The aim is to to gather information for a European level action on obesity to complement, support and coordinate existing national measures.

The document considers, for example, the following questions:

  • how to integrate the promotion of healthier lifestyles into other EU policy areas;
  • how can the Commission’s new Health and Consumer protection programme contribute to the fight against obesity;
  • what role does self-regulation in the food and advertising industry play. 

In the United States, obesity has risen at an epidemic rate during the past 20 years and the percentage of overweight children has tripled since 1980. Although still far less of a problem in Europe, statistics show that the divide between the US and Europe is narrowing.

Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner Markos Kyprianou: "The rise in obesity is a Europe-wide problem which requires a coordinated Europe-wide approach if we are to contain and reverse this trend. More than 400,000 children are estimated to become overweight every year, and today’s overweight teenagers are tomorrow’s heart attack or diabetes victims. The Commission’s Green Paper aims to stimulate discussion about effective initiatives to promote healthy diets and physical activity, so best practice can be replicated across Europe. Apart from the health benefits and cost savings to be made from tackling obesity, a coordinated European approach will also ensure that the single market is not undermined by the emergence of a patchwork of uncoordinated national measures."

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that more than 1 billion people are overweight globally, a figure that will increase to 1.5 billion in 10 years if action is not taken. 

Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU (CIAA): "Any action by the industry has to be proportionate, solidly supported by scientific research, and respectful of European consumers, so that they are truly able to make educated lifestyle choices. Ultimately, we are all aware that diet and lifestyles are matter of personal or parental choice. Our collective responsibility lies with providing consumers and parents with the right information so they can make informed choices," said the CIAA President Jean Martin.

According to Mary K. Engle from the Unites States Federal Bureau of Consumer Protection, the US obesity rates are much higher among some racial and ethnic minority populations in the US. 

A shift in daily diet towards high energy, fat, salt and sugar intake, the sedentary [spending too much time sitting down and not enough physical activity] nature of modern life and increasing urbanisation have made obesity one of the most serious health challenges facing the EU. 

The European platform for action on diet, physical activity and health, launched in March 2005, is one of several initiatives currently underway to address the problem. The platform promotes activities to inform and educate consumers, market food products and portion size plus physical activity. The aim is to stop the rise in obesity, particularly among children and young people (see EURACTIV 15 March 2005).

A number of food directives are also currently in the process of approval or revision: health claims made on food (low fat, sugar-free) food supplements (vitamins and minerals) and food safety laws. 

Obesity is estimated to account for as much as 7% of total healthcare costs in the EU.

  • Contributions on a broad range of issues related to obesity need to by submitted by 15 March 2006. The results of the consultation are set to be published by June 2006.
  • In the light of the results of the consultation process, the Commission will prepare for 2006 a Communication integrating the results of the public consultation exercise.


Life Tackle

Life Programme

LIFE TACKLE is co-funded by the LIFE Environmental Governance and Information Programme of the European Union - Project Number LIFE17 GIE/IT/000611

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