EU regulators joined forces with Europe’s advertisers and food industry Tuesday to tackle an alarming rise in Obesity, particularly among children.
Agri-food companies, consumer bodies and nutrition experts from the EU’s executive Commission will all contribute to a new think-tank set up to study Obesity and recommend remedies.
“Obesity is rising rapidly, and Europe’s expanding waistline brings with it devastating consequences for public health and huge economic costs,” EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said in a statement.
The number of overweight schoolchildren in the EU is rising by some 400,000 a year, the Commission says. The problem is worst in southern Europe as traditionally healthy Mediterranean diets give way to processed foods rich in fat, sugar and salt.
“Our continent is facing an Obesity epidemic every bit as bad as the one in North America,” Kyprianou said.
He told a news conference obesity-related diseases added between 2 and 8 percent to healthcare costs across the 25-nation bloc, as well as leading to increased cancer risks.
According to International Obesity Task Force, the prevalence of Obesity has risen by 10 to 40 percent in the majority of European countries in the past 10 years.
The new think-tank plans to develop strategies to promote physical exercise, avoid advertising of high-fat foods aimed at children and tighten food labeling.
“The lifestyle of children has changed: their form of entertainment is no longer physical activity, it’s more sedentary - television, computer games,” Kyprianou said.
The Commission hopes the industry will take voluntary measures to help curb Obesity but may draft new food laws to hasten results if there are no visible improvements by the end of 2006, he said.
“My preference and target is not to have to legislate but to have self-regulation in a code of conduct,” he said.
Already meandering through the EU legislative process is a bill to outlaw misleading food labels and force companies to use scientifically backed slogans.
Vague claims about foods aiding weight loss would be removed from packaging, as would eye-catching labels glossing over a product’s fat content.
Revision date: June 22, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.