The EU should adopt tougher regulations on food advertising to children and more effective labelling rules among a range of long-term measures to persuade Europeans to switch to a healthier diet, according to a report released today.
Speaking at a European Union conference in Milan today, Prof Philip James, chairman of the London-based International Obesity TaskForce (IOTF), which produced the report, said that the food industry had to be "part of the solution" to the problem of increasing levels of overweight and obesity.
The food industry should be encouraged to take a lead in helping to combat the epidemic of obesity, and give greater emphasis to healthier products while putting the brakes on the "hard sell" promoting products that have too much fat, sugar and salt, he told the conference organised by the Italian Ministry of Health and the European Commission.
In July the Commission announced a proposal for tighter regulation of health claims which aims to ensure that claims such as 'low fat' are used only on products that can be deemed 'healthy'. But this is only a very small step towards the ambitious goals of the IOTF.
The group claims that effective measures to promote better lifestyles need to incorporate changes in the way food is processed and marketed to make it easier for people to make healthy choices.
The report calls on stronger and more focused prevention measures from all levels of the food chain as well as government. Food and drink companies should commit to support public health goals while farmers should be encouraged to increase the supply of fresh fruits and vegetables instead of subsidies for oils, fats and sugars.
Labelling should be made simpler for consumers to distinguish products that should not be over-consumed and there should be better protection for children from the "aggressive" advertising and marketing. This area has been highlighted by consumer groups, particularly the UK-based Food Commission which released a report earlier this year condemning the food industry's advertising practices.
The IOTF report warns that in Europe overweight and obesity affects as many as one in three children, and adult rates are increasing throughout the region. Obesity rates in Britain are three times the level they were in 1980 and the very severe Class 3 obesity levels have begun to rise.